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Business of the House

Volume 447: debated on Thursday 8 June 2006

The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 12 June—Second Reading of the Fraud Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 13 June—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Work and Families Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Electoral Administration Bill.

Wednesday 14 June—A debate on European Affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Thursday 15 June—Second Reading of the Commissioner for Older People (Wales) Bill [Lords].

Friday 16 June—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

Monday 19 June—Second Reading of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 20 June—Remaining stages of the Children and Adoption Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 21 June—Opposition Day [17th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 22 June—A debate on defence policy on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 23 June—The House will not be sitting.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for the next two weeks.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman was interested to see yesterday’s Council of Europe report on rendition. The Prime Minister did not answer questions on it yesterday. When will the Government respond to it?

This morning it was announced that the police had been given more time in which to detain the suspected terrorists who were arrested in the Forest Gate raid last Friday. They can detain them for up to 14 days, although under the Terrorism Act 2006 the period for which suspects can be detained without charge was extended to 28 days. I think that Members will be surprised to hear that the period of detention in this case is only 14 days. When the Act was passed, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary were adamant that an extension was needed. Indeed, on 9 November last year the Prime Minister said

“This is an occasion when it is important that we do what is responsible, right and necessary to protect this country’s security.”—[Official Report, 9 November 2005; Vol. 439, c. 299.]

However, under section 39 of the Act the Secretary of State must make an order to implement a particular section. That has not yet been done to implement the extended period of 28 days’ detention. The Home Office has not got around to it yet.

Is it not true that by the Government’s own standards, the incompetence of the Home Office is putting the lives of British citizens at risk? Will the Home Secretary make a statement explaining this further lapse by the Home Office?

We are, however, becoming rather used to the way in which the Government say one thing and mean another. The Home Secretary said that he had 100 days in which to sort out the Home Office; the civil servant responsible says that it will take two years. Ministers say that there are no job cuts in the NHS; yesterday we heard of work force reductions. And this morning we heard that despite the hosepipe ban, a hosepipe can be used in the gardens of No.10 because it is actually a bowser with a dowser.

Yesterday’s statement by the Secretary of State for Health revealed that the NHS deficit had doubled over the past year. Jobs will be lost, not just those of administrators but those of doctors and nurses. Dr. Paul Miller, chairman of the British Medical Association’s consultants’ committee, has said that there has been

“shocking incompetence… from the top”.

He says

“Care is suffering, jobs are disappearing, patients and staff are paying the price.”

He also says that the Government should stop reorganising the NHS,

“stop interfering… in… local planning of services”


“let staff get on with the jobs”.

Yesterday, in her statement to the House, the Secretary of State for Health said that primary care trusts that stayed within budget or made a surplus would have to give money to those that were in deficit. That means that they will have to

“postpone some of the improvements that they were planning to make for their patients.”—[Official Report, 7 June 2006; Vol. 447, c. 254.]

If a trust is in deficit, services will suffer. If a trust is in balance or surplus, services will suffer. How is that the “best year ever” for the NHS?

Back in 1997, the Labour party told us that it had 24 hours in which to save the NHS. Will the Secretary of State for Health now come to the House and tell us how long the NHS will have left if someone does not sort out the problems caused by the Government?

On 16 March, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions dismissed the finding of the parliamentary ombudsman in her report “Trusting in the pensions promise” that the Government had been guilty of maladministration. The Government have said that it would cost too much to accept the ombudsman’s findings: £15 billion, to be precise. It has now been revealed that that was a gross overestimate of the cost. Yesterday it also became clear that the Government’s proposals for pensions reform would mean that about 1.5 million pensioners who had built up nest eggs for retirement would lose £450 a year. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State clarifying the Government’s position on both issues, and explaining how the Government have let down Britain’s pensioners?

The Leader of the House has made it known that he would like to be Deputy Prime Minister.

Ah, we have had another job bid from the right hon. Gentleman.

The Leader of the House has also said that he thinks the Prime Minister should step down “well before” the next election. Of course, the Prime Minister did promise that he would serve a full term. That means either that the Prime Minister is not going to fulfil his promise to the British people, or that the Leader of the House is clearly a Brownite now. Which is it?

I will deal with the right hon. Lady’s first question, about the Council of Europe and rendition, in a second.

The right hon. Lady asked about the order to be made under section 39 of the Terrorism Act. She said that if the order was not made shortly, lives would be at risk. I suggest that the right hon. Lady needs to be extremely careful about implying that lives would be at risk in this case; that comes close to pre-judging cases currently before the courts. She really needs to think about what she has been saying.

Secondly, the right hon. Lady knows very well that, under Home Secretaries of both main parties, there is always some time between the passage of an Act and the laying of orders under it. I do not remember that the Conservative Opposition, either here or in the other place, were helpful in getting the legislation in question through. If anybody is to blame for the delays, it is the Conservative Opposition—here and in the other place.

On the national health service, the right hon. Lady asked whether we were right to say—on 30 April 1997, I think—that there were only 24 hours to save the national health service. Yes, we were, because there is no question but that, if the Conservatives had got back into power in 1997, the inexorable decline of the health service—which had happened year by year by year, in my constituency and in hers—would have continued. We have more than doubled funding in real terms.

The hon. Gentleman may say that we have done that, but what we have actually done, including in his constituency, is increase the number of nurses by 85,000—by a third—and we have increased their salaries by a quarter in real terms. There has been an improvement in health care in every single constituency in the country, based on spending that we voted for and the Conservatives voted against. There has been a dramatic improvement in the number of both doctors and nurses in the right hon. Lady’s own constituency; she knows that. Indeed, just four years ago, 113 people in her area were waiting for in-patient treatment for more than nine months, and in addition, 311 were waiting for in-patient treatment for more than six months. Today, the figure in respect of both periods is zero—thanks to Labour’s spending and no thanks to the position of the Conservatives.

On the pensions debate, about which the right hon. Lady asked, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions made an excellent statement just over a week ago, and there will be parliamentary questions to the Department for Work and Pensions next Monday. We have also promised—and there will be—a full debate on the pensions White Paper, when all the issues that she wishes to raise can be raised.

Very shortly. [Interruption.] Before the summer.

The right hon. Lady asked about the Council of Europe, a body that the Conservative party sometimes wishes us to withdraw from, so that we can withdraw from all our international obligations under it, but I put that point to one side. She also claimed that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, and, by implication, I, have not answered any questions in respect of rendition. She knows that to be totally incorrect. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that we have said everything we needed to say on that, and indeed we have. She knows very well that nobody could have provided more information to the House, either orally or in writing, about the issue of rendition—about the fact that there were four cases of requests for rendition, all of which occurred when I was Home Secretary, before 2001, and under the Clinton Administration. Two were granted, two were refused and there have been no cases since 2001. I have given undertakings to the House, and the simple truth is that if people read the report—the disreputable report—by Mr. Marty of the Council of Europe, they will see that he makes no substantive allegations. I hope that the right hon. Lady does not join that bandwagon.

I announced that there will be a full-day’s debate on 14 June to discuss the prospects for the European Council. I hope very much that the right hon. Lady and the shadow Foreign Secretary will use that opportunity to deal with what The Daily Telegraph described this morning as David Cameron’s broken pledge on Conservatives in Europe. First, we heard yesterday from the shadow Foreign Secretary that a clear pledge, debated endlessly in this House before the election—[Interruption.] They do not like it. The clear pledge, debated endlessly in this House before the election, to withdraw from the common fisheries policy has been torn up, and the clearest pledge to remove the Conservative party from the European People’s party and to join a barmy army of obscure right-wing politicians will also be broken.

Last autumn, oxygen was used to help revive a 14-year-old boy who had been restrained at a secure training centre. That followed an incident in which a 14-year-old boy died after being restrained at the same secure training centre. Does my right hon. Friend understand the fury that some of us feel about the inability to raise the issue and to have it properly debated on the Floor of the House because of the continuing delay in reconvening the inquest? Will he ensure that a statement be made or a debate held on the Floor on this very important matter—one boy has died, and another has required oxygen—to set out what happened and what is being done to end those practices, which are causing such damage to young people?

I certainly understand the deep concern of my hon. Friend on the issue; I am sure that it is shared across the House. She will know that there are always difficulties in raising matters in this House when court proceedings are pending. That said, I take full note of what she has said today and will, along with appropriate ministerial colleagues, do my very best to ensure that she and the families concerned are provided with as much information as possible, and an explanation, in advance of the inquest.

I thank the Leader of the House for his prompt response following the last business questions on the issue of the Bichard inquiry; that was in marked contrast to the performance of the Home Office.

The Greater London authority inquiry into 7/7 threw up yet another unfulfilled recommendation of a major public inquiry. May we have a debate on the way in which we keep track of these matters and on how we ensure that when serious inquiries into disasters are held, the recommendations made are adhered to and implemented at the earliest possible opportunity?

Following the welcome news of the apparent demise of al-Zarqawi in Iraq today, no one would be naive enough to think that that spells an end to the violence in Iraq. This is the tenth time at business questions that I have asked for a proper debate on the foreign affairs aspects of Iraq. When he was Foreign Secretary, the Leader of the House indicated that he would have welcomed such an opportunity. The time is right for such a debate; will he ensure that we have one before the summer recess?

I also noted the fact that we are to have a debate on Europe on Wednesday 14 June. Given that some parties do still have friends and influence in Europe, will the Leader of the House suggest to the Minister for Europe—his predecessor—that he comes to the House on that day to spell out the Government’s position on putting an end to the absurd charade of moving the European Parliament to Strasbourg permanently, with all the costs to the British taxpayer that that entails. It is time we put an end to this nonsense once and for all, and this country should be setting a lead in the matter.

Lastly, may we have a debate on fixed-term contracts? I noted the attempt by the Leader of the House to enliven the Prime Minister’s monthly press conference today, and the Secretary of State for Health’s offer in her statement yesterday to be fully accountable for future failures in the health service. If we had fixed-term contracts for Cabinet Ministers, we could have targets, appraisals and tests for value for money. We could see whether premises were being used. Most importantly, we could ensure that people did not outstay their welcome in Cabinet posts.

The hon. Gentleman’s first question was in respect of the inquiry into the 7 and 21 July terrorist outrages last summer. Full account is always taken of inquiry reports and there was a meeting recently of the Cabinet Committee on international terrorism, which looked carefully at the conclusions of the GLA inquiry and discussed many of its findings. That will continue, because it is in everybody’s interests that we learn the lessons from what happened last 7 July, and indeed on 21 July.

On the issue of the death of al-Zarqawi, let me say that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has described it—on this occasion, I happen to think that it is entirely appropriate that it should be so described—as good news, because that man was an evil butcher who was killing Iraqis, as well as coalition forces, in large numbers. Nothing was going to stop him, I am afraid, until he was stopped in this way. I may say that I hope that we can put on record our admiration for all those in the Iraqi forces and the coalition forces, as well as others, who were responsible for his apprehension.

I understand entirely what the hon. Gentleman says about the case for a full debate on foreign policy. I am alive to that, as is my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip. Our only difficulty is finding the time, alongside many other requests. There is an opportunity to raise those matters in the debate on Europe next Wednesday, because Iraq— [Interruption.] Well, he makes a sedentary gesture—a polite but critical sedentary gesture, indicating that he does not entirely accept what I am saying. I have to say to him that before the European Council will be Iraq, Iran and the middle east, so there is every reason for him to use that opportunity, along with his right hon. and hon. Friends, to debate those matters next week.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of Strasbourg as the seat of the European Parliament. That arrangement is now friendless, except for those in the host country. I am sad to say that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) has just reminded me, that was one of a number of errors made by the Major Government in 1992, because they set that arrangement in concrete. We all have to deal with that.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about fixed-term contracts. I do not think that there is a case for them, and I would put this request way below, for example, a request for a debate on the tax system. I hope very much that the Liberal Democrats will use their next Opposition day for a debate on it, because what is clear from the announcements being made today is that they are ditching higher rates for the rich for higher taxation for everyone.

My right hon. Friend might have noticed the launch of the Commission for Global Road Safety report at the QE2 building this morning: eight nations are backing a call to take seriously the fact that 1.2 million people die every year on the roads, mainly in the developing world.

Many of us in the developed world have brought down the number of people killed and badly injured on the roads, but in the developing world that is one of the most common causes of death and serious injury. Will my right hon. Friend urge an early debate on that matter and its global implications? We cannot talk about global sustainability when we exclude what is probably the fifth largest killer in the developed world. Will our Government adopt a higher profile by pursuing the aim of bringing this dreadful, useless loss of human life to an end?

I commend my hon. Friend’s interest in that matter and in the conference. Many of us will have heard our friend and former colleague Lord Robertson speaking about the issue on the BBC “Today” programme this morning.

The campaign is absolutely right to highlight that issue. I can think of a country not in the developing world, but in Asia, with the same population as the UK and lower road usage, but with deaths on the road running at nearly 25,000, compared with 3,000 in this country. It is a major epidemic across the world, of both deaths and serious injuries. I know that my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for International Development and for Transport take seriously the need for us to evangelise in other countries on our experience of bringing down road deaths and injuries.

First, I associate myself with the paean of praise from the Leader of the House to the Iraqi Government over the death of that monster al-Zarqawi. I know that everyone else would join us in that.

No one beats me in supporting the forces in their determination to seek out those who would support terrorist acts in the UK, but a number of people in the Islamic community are now quite concerned that there is a deep game going on among the extremists to try to discredit those who are supportive of the British authorities in their search for such information. The raid in Forest Gate, just down the road from my constituency, and the continuing search, with nothing yet found, for those weapons was matched on Wednesday—48 hours ago—by a raid in Dewsbury and the arrest or, rather, lifting of an individual.

I understand that in the same street in Dewsbury and in the same house—the house of Sheikh Yacoub Munshi—on Saturday 3 June, the director of the Defence Academy, Lieutenant-General Kiszely, visited that family. That man’s grandson was lifted on Wednesday and taken by the police, supposedly in connection with the arrests in Canada. I think that the police are now weakening their position over him, and he may be released.

My concern is simply this: we have a delicate situation, and I am not criticising the police, but I wonder to what degree the various Departments are talking to each other, such that a senior general, for good reasons, visits a family to support those who have been supportive, only to find that same family subsequently targeted. I urge the Leader of the House to ask the Home Secretary to come to the House to make a statement.

I take seriously what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, and of course I understand the delicacy of that matter, not least with my constituency background, but I say to hon. Members that there is a dilemma facing not just the intelligence services and the police but every Member of the House: do the agencies and the police act on credible intelligence, knowing, of course, because that is the nature of intelligence, that it might not be fully accurate, or do they ignore it, knowing that it might well be accurate? If they ignored it, and a terrorist outrage followed, the opprobrium on them would be far greater than in the reverse situation. That is the dilemma facing the police and the intelligence agencies. I believe that they carry out their job phenomenally well, and they deserve our full support.

What consideration has my right hon. Friend given to the prospects of any legislation further to deregulate Sunday trading? In view of the extensive opposition on the Labour Benches, and indeed in all parts of the House; the concerns of retailers, large and small, and the opposition of family and Church groups, as well as the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, is not this something that the Government would be wise to drop sooner rather than later?

I well understand my right hon. Friend’s concern, and I recall that in 1991 and 1992 we shared a similar position on the free votes to amend the shops legislation. We take full account of what he and others have said on the issue and I shall ensure that his views are relayed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

May we have an urgent debate on the consequences of unskilled immigration? While such immigration may benefit the middle and upper-middle classes, because those immigrants tend to work in restaurants or to clean offices and homes, that level of immigration is not so good for the less well off in our society, who end up competing with the newly arrived for scarce resources such as housing, education, health and jobs. That is creating some unnecessary and unwanted friction in our communities—I suspect not just in my community, but in the community of Blackburn, which is represented by the Leader of the House.

I am always happy to see these issues debated. Contrary to myth, there is a high degree of control over immigration, especially in respect of low-skilled workers who have no family connections here. The hon. Gentleman knows that, but he would know more if he talked to fruit farmers in Herefordshire, Kent and many other areas, and not just to people in what he describes as more prosperous areas. I could take him to a factory in my constituency that would not be operating without low-skilled workers from eastern Europe, because the owners could not recruit others to do those jobs. That is a reality, and we have to choose between maintaining employment at its current levels with all the protections, including the minimum wage, that we introduced and he voted against—[Hon. Members: “He was not here.”] Had he been here, he would have voted against them. He is not denying that. I know that he spoke out against those protections in his leaflets, so the fact that he was not here is, on this occasion, irrelevant. I understand the point that he makes, but I do not agree with it.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the announcement this morning by the water services regulator that he intends to fine Severn Trent Water for its appalling level of service to customers? Will my right hon. Friend also speak to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about making a statement to make it clear that it is the Government’s intention that the fine should be paid from the recently announced excessive profits of the company, rather than by the hard-pressed customers who have to suffer the poor service and unique record of leaking pipes, prosecutions for pollution and the fiddling of figures to inflate bills and overcharge customers, recently admitted by the company? It would be much more appropriate for the fine to be paid by those who own the company, not by those who suffer from its appalling service.

I certainly get the point that my hon. Friend is not very keen on Severn Trent Water and its record, and I will ensure that his concerns are passed on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

With the Home Secretary telling us that his Department is unfit for purpose, it is hardly surprising that some of us are very cynical about the fact that the order under the Terrorism Act 2000 to extend the period for which terrorist suspects may be detained has not yet been laid. That is a serious matter, and I ask the Leader of the House to insist that the Home Secretary come to the Dispatch Box early next week to tell us when the order will be laid.

With respect, I have already dealt with that matter. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is aware of the urgency of the matter, but it has been the practice of successive Home Secretaries from both parties to allow time to elapse between the passage of legislation—the Bill in question was delayed by the Conservative party—and the introduction of Orders under it.

Will my right hon. Friend provide time for a debate on Iran? I am conscious of the fact that we have a debate on Europe next week, but a debate on Iran would cover the International Atomic Energy Agency and the delicate—one might say, grave—situation of that country’s nuclear aspirations. Other issues include human rights and the status of those exiled from Iran. It is time that the House took cognisance of the situation in Iran and the fact that the Inter-Parliamentary Union is sending a delegation there, which I am very uncomfortable about.

My understanding is that the IPU will send a delegation, but that is a matter for it to decide, taking account of any advice that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary may have to offer. I understand the strong case that my hon. Friend makes for a debate on Iran: I am seeking a debate on foreign policy, which could range more widely. I hope to be able to achieve that before the House rises for the recess, but that depends on accommodating the multifarious requests.

I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree that one of the major obstacles to stability in Northern Ireland is the ongoing situation with paramilitary activity and criminality. In the Northern Ireland Assembly, we have until 24 November to resolve all the issues. Will he consider putting some Government time aside to discuss the whole issue of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland?

I will look into that idea, and discuss it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

In the past few weeks I have visited two separate debt advice centres in my constituency, and both expressed concern about rising levels of debt among people who have been taken in by television adverts about debt consolidation and other financial products that were inappropriate for their needs and, far from solving their financial worries, actually made them worse. Will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on the regulation of the advertising of personal credit products?

I understand my hon. Friend’s great concern about the issue. It would be difficult to find time for a debate on it on the Floor of the House, but it is an ideal candidate for a debate in Westminster Hall or an Adjournment debate. I wish her well in that.

Is one of the tasks given to the Leader of the House by the Prime Minister that of resolving the impasse over House of Lords reform? If so, can the right hon. Gentleman make a statement before the House rises for the summer recess, indicating the progress that he has been able to make and how his approach differs from that of his predecessor?

That is one of the tasks that I have been asked to undertake, and I am doing so with some relish. The right hon. Gentleman will know that we had an interesting, if unexpected, three-hour debate in early May on the establishment of the Joint Committee on Conventions and the issue of Lords reform, so it has been aired. I am seeking to allow the Joint Committee time to reach its conclusions and I will bring forward an order to extend its deadline. I said that I would do so, and I hope that we can agree that. While that is going on, I will hold informal consultations with the other parties, Cross Benchers and bishops about the formula that would be appropriate. In view of that, I am not sure whether I will be able to make a statement to the House before we rise, but I will think about it.

Can we find time for an early debate on relations between Britain and Germany? We will all be cheering England on to Berlin and victory in the World cup, and we want every English fan there to be an ambassador for Britain. In that context, does my right hon. Friend deplore the fact that the BBC has not yet apologised for Mr. Jeremy Clarkson having thrown up his hand in a Nazi salute, or this statement from a prominent personality, quoted in The Independent:

“If anyone’s got a history of making themselves feel at home in other people’s countries, it’s the Germans.”

That was said by the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). With such vile xenophobia expressed against Germany, how can we expect English football fans to behave differently?

We are all looking forward to the opening of the World cup and Saturday, including—please God—success for England, and to the opportunity to excise all the ridiculous parodies of Germany portrayed in the media and by some hon. Members.

I hope that hon. Members who are not English will take the opportunity to sign my early-day motion wishing England success in the World cup—including the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths), who is in his place on the Front Bench.

The Leader of the House knows my constituency well, and he knows that the people of Longridge have traditionally looked towards Preston for their health care. Under the primary care changes, they are being asked to look towards Ribble Valley and Hyndburn, which many of them will find inconvenient. The GPs are up in arms about it and a petition on the subject has more than 3,500 signatures. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Health to come to the House to explain why she is not listening to the concerns of GPs and local people about health care provision in the area?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s early-day motion, which advises support for England even though he is Welsh. His constituency is next door to mine, and I know it extremely well. It is not remotely Welsh; it is as English as any, and I can think of no other career move open to him. I congratulate him on a minor act of survival. He will know that in his area there are 5,400 more nurses—

The hon. Gentleman says, “Oh, no!” and throws up his hands, but whether he likes it or not, the proper thing to say is, “Oh, yes!” The quality of health care in Ribble Valley, Longridge and elsewhere has increased and will continue to do so.

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) asked a specific question about the PCT boundaries. I assure him that I will take the matter up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and ensure that he is given an answer.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be interested to hear that there was an extremely well-attended debate yesterday in Westminster Hall on the question of securing peace between Palestinians and Israelis. However, most Back Benchers present were unable to make proper contributions, largely because the three Front-Bench spokesmen took up a third of the time available. Calls have been made already this morning for debates on Iran and Iraq, so should we not have a full debate in Government time on the middle east?

First, I shall pursue the issue that my hon. Friend raises about the use of time in Westminster Hall, which I know causes anxiety for many hon. Members, especially in popular debates. The Procedure Committee or the Modernisation Committee may wish to pursue that matter. Secondly, I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes, and I am doing my best in that regard.

May I ask the Leader of the House to take a personal interest in a matter about which I gave him notice this morning? For some months, those of us who depend on remote access to the parliamentary intranet from our constituencies have been affected by very poor service. Despite the efforts of our Parliamentary Information and Communications Technology department, the problems have still not been resolved. After five months the key fault, which may be external to the House, has not even been identified. My constituents have been inconvenienced by the amount of time that my office has wasted in dealing with this problem, and I am sure that many other hon. Members could make the same complaint.

Will the right hon. Gentleman inject some urgency into resolving the problem? In a commercial organisation it would have demanded a solution within hours rather than months. And when he answers, please will he not begin by telling me how many nurses there are in North-East Bedfordshire?

I shall not start my answer in that way. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the notice that he gave me about a problem that I know has frustrated him and other hon. Members of all parties. I shall follow the matter up personally—and my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House has just volunteered that he too will take a close interest in it. We shall pursue the problem together. Meanwhile, the hon. Gentleman will wish to know that in North-East Bedfordshire, there were 2,975 more nurses, and 659 more doctors.

Last night the House was locked down for the second time in less than a year—a fact that hon. Members and staff found out about from rumour, anecdote and the rolling news on the BBC and Sky. Will my right hon. Friend discuss security in the House with the relevant officials, and take an urgent look at how we can use new technology, such as e-mail and text and pager messages, to communicate the fact that an incident has happened? Will he also look at the training given to staff? The fire training in the House is excellent, but people need to be trained in evacuation procedures when other emergencies arise. Will he renew the guidance in respect of training and communication in this area?

I am sure that the House will take note of the points that my hon. Friend raises, but she will understand that security is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, and not directly for me. I know that you have taken full account of what happened yesterday, and that you were concerned about it. I also know that the Joint Committee on Security—of which the Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household, my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), is Chairman—will have the matter on its agenda at its next meeting.

Does the Leader of the House think it acceptable that forces families who have lost loved ones in Iraq have had to wait as long as three years for inquests to take place? Will he get a Minister from the Department for Constitutional Affairs to come to the House and make a statement about why such an appalling state of affairs has been allowed to happen? Will he ensure that the necessary resources are made available to make sure that it is addressed properly?

The delay is not acceptable. Written ministerial statements were delivered earlier this week, both in this House and in the other place, that set out the process being pursued. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State in that Department are very concerned about the matter. I am sure that it is no comfort to the bereaved families if I point out that a Bill is before the House that is designed greatly to improve the administration and timeliness of inquests, but I emphasise that the Government understand that the situation is unsatisfactory. I apologise to those relatives for the delay, which has been caused by other factors. We understand their frustration, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that action is being taken to deal with the problem.

Will my right hon. Friend review the way in which Back Benchers can get business debated, both in Westminster Hall and on the Floor of the House? Will he look in particular at how early-day motions are treated? Hundreds of thousands of copies are printed, and are reprinted day after day. For example, early-day motions take up 200 pages of today’s Order Paper, but none ever gets debated on the Floor of the House. Similarly, every day we reprint other pages that are full of motions that will never be debated; the one that I am showing the House now has been printed 220 times. Should we not be more honest about how business from Back Benchers is brought to the Floor of the House?

My hon. Friend raises an important question about the balance of time on the Floor of the House. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) has reminded the House that there was a period when we dealt on the Floor of the House not only with private Members’ Bills but with private Members’ motions, which were debatable and could be voted on here. The House gave up that facility when Westminster Hall was introduced, and it is for the House to decide whether that was a fair exchange. I shall not express my personal view, save to say that the Modernisation Committee will wish to look at the matter. However, I must also tell my hon. Friend—any party aspiring to be in government has to think about this—that only so much time is available to us. The debates on private Members’ motions used to take place on a Friday, so the House used to meet every Friday, not just on some Fridays.

The second consideration that must be borne in mind is that all hon. Members stand for election on manifestos that set out the legislation to be introduced by a prospective Government, and not by private Members. Government legislation, too, takes time, which means that the balance is quite tricky.

As we approach the wonderful season of garden parties, fetes and proms provided by communities, schools, churches and volunteers to raise money for good causes, may we have a debate that will allow us to expose the perverse interpretation of the newly implemented Licensing Act 2003 by some councils that want to discourage those good works? The Government need to provide clarity about the application of that Act.

The hon. Gentleman represents Canvey Island, which I know well. If he is saying that the fine people who live there are facing difficulties, I shall do my best to sort the matter out with the relevant Ministers. However, I do not recall that Castle Point has a Labour-controlled council. Some other party must be responsible for what is happening there, and I suppose that it could be the one represented by the hon. Members who sit below the Gangway—[Interruption.] Oh, is it run by the Conservatives? In that case, the hon. Gentleman needs to talk to his leader.

There are regular debates in the House on energy policy, but has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to read the excellent report on water resources by a Select Committee in the other place? Is it not time that the House fully debated the water crisis facing the south-east—not least because it could result in a very large hole being dug in my constituency? Is not it time to debate our water strategy?

My hon. Friend the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment made a statement about the water shortages some two weeks ago, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that we keep the matter under close review. However, I know his constituency a little and believe that any proposals for reservoirs there are usually resisted quite strongly. There are large reservoirs in my constituency, and I remind the hon. Gentleman that we have to store our water somewhere.

The unfortunate consequence of an ageing population is that many more people will suffer from dementia. In fact, the number of people being diagnosed with the condition is rapidly increasing. Unfortunately, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has decided to continue to restrict the use of drugs for Alzheimer’s disease in future. May we have a debate on the consequences and the wider health and financial implications of an ageing population?

That raises an important issue, but whether there is time for such a debate is another matter. On the issue of drugs to control Alzheimer’s and other dementias, I would say that NICE has not yet published its full guidance to the NHS. There is a formal appeals process and stakeholders have until 15 June, next week, to lodge any appeals. We acknowledge the importance of the appraisal and I hope that the hon. Lady does too, but NICE was established to examine precisely this sort of difficult issue, and it has the expertise and independence to enable it to do so.

May we have an early debate on management of the likely consequences of climate change, which would allow us to look into the use of desalination plants, such as the one proposed for Beckton, for more water resources and better coastal protection? Otherwise, the welcome for the Olympic games in Britain will be, “Don’t shower while you’re here. These are the dirty games. There’s no water to wash—but be careful in case there’s a flood”.

The Olympic games will be a triumph for the United Kingdom—[Interruption.]—and for all the parties who have supported it over the years on a bipartisan basis. We have had plenty of debates on climate change, but I strongly take note of what the right hon. Gentleman said.

May we have an urgent debate on the effect of VAT regulations on the construction of community swimming pools? I ask that because islanders on Mull have raised enough money to construct a swimming pool, but the project is in danger of collapse because of complications in the VAT regulations. Community recreational projects are supposed to be zero-rated for VAT, but Revenue and Customs is threatening to levy VAT in this case. If the Leader of the House cannot find time for a debate, will he at least draw the Chancellor’s attention to that matter? I am sure that the Government would not want this important community project to fail because of VAT complications.

As the hon. Gentleman has observed, there are many concessions within the VAT regime to take account of charities and other good works. I shall certainly raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor the Exchequer.

On 11 December, just before Christmas last year, the largest explosion that Europe has seen since the second world war took place in my constituency. I praised the Deputy Prime Minister the following day for making a statement before the House. Since then, 4,000 jobs have been put at risk and our water table has been contaminated, but we have received no money from the Government. May we have debate in which some Secretary of State makes it clear who is in charge, as the Deputy Prime Minister has been moved from his position? I do not mean that in any detrimental way, but this is a very serious matter.

Of course I understand the profound seriousness of what happened and the importance of the long-term implications, which are too easily forgotten once the problem is no longer in the headlines. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister was personally concerned about the matter, and continues to be so. I shall certainly raise it with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, for Trade and Industry and for Communities and Local Government. I will get the hon. Gentleman a response.

A fortnight ago I asked the Leader of the House to place on the Order Paper a motion to enable the European Scrutiny Committee to sit in public. He said that he would think about it, so I would be interested to hear the product of his thoughts.

I am still thinking about it—I say that so that the hon. Gentleman knows that that process does not just take place on the odd Thursday. I intend to have an office meeting to attempt to resolve our approach to European scrutiny. As I said to the hon. Gentleman before, I am in favour of the House having greater scrutiny of European matters, as we do not compare favourably in that with the other place. However, we must not embarrass ourselves by setting up systems that subsequently fall into disrepute because of inadequate interest on the part of Members on both sides of the House. That is the problem.

I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 2281:

[That this House expresses concern at the Department of Trade and Industry's decision to review advice on the use of mechanical parts in electrical components; notes that the decision to include mechanical parts under the European Directive on Hazardous Substances will in effect place a ban on most decorative lighting; further notes that no other EU member state is extending the ban to mechanical components in decorative lighting; further notes that the ban will not extend to mechanical components imported into the UK including from competitors from Asia; further notes that the lighting industry believes that 200 lighting manufacturers employing over 4,000 people face bankruptcy under the new guidance; and calls on the Government urgently to review the new guidance on mechanical lighting to exclude it from the EU Directive on Hazardous Substances.]

May we have an early debate on Whitehall’s obsession with gold-plating EU directives? Two hundred jobs in Banbury are at serious risk because the Department of Trade and Industry is interpreting an EU directive on the regulation of hazardous substances on decorative lighting in a way that no other member state is doing. It is a complete nightmare, as companies have had only three weeks’ warning of the change in the regulations. Frankly, it is crazy. This kit is still going to be importable from China and the far east, so the directive is anti-competitive, leading to lost jobs in the UK. It is mad.

I have seen early-day motion 2281—but we do not need a debate, because we are as against gold-plating as the hon. Gentleman is. As soon as I became Foreign Secretary, I initiated with other ministerial colleagues a major push against gold-plating. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is equally opposed to it, and there is also the Better Regulation Executive to provide further scrutiny. I promise the hon. Gentleman that I will pursue the matter personally with my fellow Ministers, and I do not believe that there is a single Minister who wants an outcome different from the one that he would like. I hope that I am right.

May we have a statement from the Leader of the House, preferably within the next couple of minutes, on the opportunity afforded by business questions for hon. Members to raise issues on behalf of vulnerable members of society and for the Leader to give non-partisan replies, as he did to the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) earlier today? That would allow him to revisit the answer he gave me on 25 May when I raised the question of the closure of the emergency walk-in clinic at the Maudsley hospital. He said:

“I am sure that the arrangements being made in respect of the Maudsley hospital are more than adequate to meet the needs of those patients.”—[Official Report, 25 May 2006; Vol. 446, c. 1646.]

If that were so, Marjorie Wallace of SANE would not have said that there was

“nowhere for people to find refuge in crisis and emergency”,

and Teresa Priest of Southwark Mind would not have said that it was a matter of “life and death” for people with mental health problems. The situation is very serious, so I would be grateful if he reconsidered his response.

I do, where appropriate, try to deal with non-partisan questions in a non-partisan way. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I occasionally find it necessary to mention the increase in the number of doctors and nurses in different constituencies. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns and I know of his profound interest in the matter, which I shall continue to pursue with the Health Secretary.