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Business of the House

Volume 453: debated on Thursday 30 November 2006

The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 4 December—Remaining stages of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill.

Tuesday 5 December—Opposition day [1st Allotted day]. There will be a debate entitled “Government failures on Public Health”, followed by a debate entitled “Failure of Government Transport Strategy and Mounting Capacity Crisis on British Roads and Railways”. Both debates arise on an Opposition motion.

Wednesday 6 December—A debate on European affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Thursday 7 December—Estimates [1st Allotted day]. There will be a debate on the provision of affordable housing followed by a debate on occupational pensions.

Details will be given in the Official Report.

At 6 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Friday 8 December—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 11 December will be:

Monday 11 december—Second Reading of the Offender Management Bill, followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Tuesday 12 December—Second Reading of the Greater London Authority Bill.

Wednesday 13 December—Second Reading of the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill.

Thursday 14 December—A debate on fisheries on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 15 December—The House will not be sitting.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 14 December and 11 January will be:

Thursday 14 December—A debate on changes in medical and clinical practice.

Thursday 11 January—A debate on the future of legal aid.

The information is as follows:

Communities and Local Government: in so far as it relates to the provision of affordable housing (Third Report of the Communities and Local Government Committee entitled “Affordability and the Supply of Housing”, Session 2005-06, (HC703-11).

Work and Pensions: In so far as it relates to assistance for those who have lost their occupational pensions. (Sixth Report of Public Administration Committee entitled The Ombudsman in Question: The Ombudsman’s Report on Pensions and its Constitutional Implications”, Session 2005-06, (HC1081).

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business.

Can we have an urgent statement from the Defence Secretary on the complete mess made by the Ministry of Defence of payments to Royal Marines serving in Afghanistan? I know that the Defence Secretary is making a statement on the NATO summit today, but we need an explanation of why personnel were led to believe that they would receive extra money only to have it clawed back, which will have a major impact on the morale of serving troops in a very difficult and dangerous theatre.

Can we also have an oral statement next week from the Home Secretary on the riot at Harmondsworth and problems in the Prison Service? A written statement has been tabled today, but written statements should not be used by Ministers to avoid having to come before the House to answer questions from Members. One third of the detainees at Harmondsworth were foreign national prisoners awaiting deportation and another 150 illegal immigrants may now be released from other prisons to make room for detainees from Harmondsworth. There was another incident overnight at the Lindholme detention centre. The former chief inspector of prisons, the noble Lord Ramsbotham, has said that the result of all the upheaval in the Home Office

“over the past decade is we have a prison service left in a state of shambles.”

The Home Secretary should make a statement to the House so that hon. Members can call him to account.

Talking of statements to the House, why is the NATO summit statement later today being made by the Defence Secretary, not the Prime Minister? The Prime Minister has made every statement to the House on NATO summits since 1997—in 1997, 1999, 2002 and 2004. Why is he not here today, or was the summit just too embarrassing for him?

The Leader of the House will have just heard in women’s questions a reference to early-day motion 282 on human trafficking, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing).

[That this House notes that 25th November is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women; further notes the newly published report of the End Violence Against Women campaign, which concludes that the Government is not doing enough to combat the many and varied types of violence suffered by women; notes in particular that thousands of women who are victims of trafficking and organised crime are being forced to work as prostitutes; commends the work of the many charitable organisations providing help to women who are victims of violence; and calls on the Government to take immediate steps to raise public awareness of the problem and of the help and support which is available to victims.]

There are estimated to be 8,500 trafficked prostitutes in London alone, charging £15 a time for sex, each earning their pimps £100,000 a year. That is horrific, but it is happening in the UK in the 21st century. It is a new form of slavery. We need to raise awareness of the problem and of the help available to those caught up in this terrible trade, so can we have a debate on sex trafficking?

The Leader of the House will know that the Department of Trade and Industry is investigating the collapse of MG Rover. We learned this week that the Phoenix four, the former owners of MG Rover, are going to benefit from a tax rebate of £16 million. Can we have a statement from the Trade and Industry Secretary, and should not the tax rebate be withheld until the investigation is complete?

I have raised the issue of back garden development before. The position is simple: Government targets mean that back gardens are being built on and that family homes are being demolished to make way for flats. What is more, the Government are refusing housing and planning delivery grant to those councils that do not encourage building on brownfield sites—that is, on back gardens. Yet, this week, the housing Minister published planning policy statement 3, which states:

“Particularly where family housing is proposed, it will be important to ensure that the needs of children are taken into account and that there is good provision of recreational areas, including private gardens”.

Is it not crazy that the Government encourage councils to build on back gardens while at the same time telling them to keep them? I do not know about “no joined-up government”; this does not even seem to be a joined-up Minister. Can we have a statement from the housing Minister on this?

With the housing Minister giving mixed messages, the Ministry of Defence messing up forces pay and the Prison Service in a state of shambles, this is truly a divided and paralysed Government.

On payments to the Royal Marines, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is of course concerned about these reports and I will communicate to him what the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) has said. I know that he will be making a statement, either oral or written.

Of course, what has happened at Harmondsworth is serious. Such things can happen under any Government, however, as the right hon. Lady and her colleagues will know. It is extremely important that detainees and offenders do not get the message that if they riot and cause destruction in these institutions, particular attention will be paid to them. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is never slow to come forward with statements—he is already making one today—and he has tabled a written ministerial statement on this issue. He and I will bear in mind what the right hon. Lady has said when deciding whether there should be an oral statement early next week.

The right hon. Lady raised the issue of the NATO summit. The House will wish to know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make a statement in the House on the White Paper on the future of the Trident missile system on Monday. It is entirely appropriate that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, who was present at the NATO summit with the Prime Minister, should make the statement following the summit.

We all share the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) in early-day motion 282 on the importance of action to deal with sex trafficking.

The right hon. Member for Maidenhead invited me to comment on those who appear to be profiting from the collapse of MG Rover. Of course, we all share her concern about this, but I do not want to comment in any more detail until the inquiry into the collapse has determined who should bear responsibility. I will, however, ensure that her proposal is passed on that the money should not be paid to the directors until the inquiry has been completed.

The right hon. Lady talked about back garden development. I listen to her from time to time during these sessions, and I see a new world that she is presenting for her constituents and for those in the Conservative party. In that new world, there are no difficult decisions for the Government to make, and the moment there is a Conservative Government—should that horrific time ever arrive—there would be no pressure on building land in Maidenhead or anywhere else in the south-east. All would be hunky-dory. It is not fair on the electors to take them for a ride in that way. As she and every other Opposition Member who represents a constituency in the south-east knows, there is pressure on housing land, especially in the south-east. In some respects, we want people to move out to other places—the north-west, for example—but with the changes in family formation, including the increase in small families, there is a need for small dwellings as well as large ones. It is far better to use brownfield land—including, in some cases, large back gardens—than to use greenfield land. I take it from what the right hon. Lady says that she would abandon the use of brownfield land and move instead to ensuring that vast swathes of green belt were used for building. That would be the consequence of what she is saying.

May we have an urgent debate on the state of manufacturing in the United Kingdom following the decision by GE to close its lighting factory in Leicester, which has been in existence for 60 years, putting at risk almost 400 jobs? The proposal is to move the work to Hungary. This important issue is relevant not just to Leicester, but to other constituencies about which decisions are made by people thousands of miles away that will have profound consequences for the local economy.

I hope that my right hon. Friend is able to raise that matter and take one of the many opportunities for debate on it. Of course, we understand and share his concern, and I know that the manufacturing advisory service and other Department of Trade and Industry agencies are already seeking to help those who have been affected by the announcement.

May I endorse the request for a statement on the position of the Royal Marines, many of whom I had the privilege of meeting as a member of the armed forces parliamentary scheme? They are the best of the best, and they do not deserve to be treated in this shameful way.

May we have a statement from the Home Secretary on the information, which emerged obliquely last week, that the anticipated increase in the number of police community support officers will be cut from 24,000 to 16,000? In my police authority area, Avon and Somerset, that means a reduction from the planned 541 to 346. That is a difficult adjustment to make late in the budgetary process. May we have a statement on the reasons for that change and an opportunity to question the Home Secretary?

I note that we are to have a debate on fisheries. Will we ever have another debate, in Government time, on agriculture? According to Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs figures, we are losing one dairy farm every day. That is a scandalous position for this country to be in. We might also consider the position of small abattoirs, which face further full-cost recovery on inspection charges. That means that even more of them will be lost.

On a not unrelated matter, given the chaos in DEFRA, may we have a debate on the effects of cuts in British Waterways funding? People who use our waterways are not given to demonstrating, but the Leader of the House may have noticed that people in narrow boats are demonstrating up and down the country over the effects of those cuts on British Waterways. May we have an opportunity to discuss them?

Lastly, next week, we face the first Bill—the Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill—being considered by that new creation, the Public Bill Committee. Will any guidance be issued on the taking of evidence by Public Bill Committees? What is to be done in terms of written and oral evidence, and is there any provision for the Bills starting their consideration in another place also to benefit from evidential sessions?

On the planned number of community support officers, some adjustments were made to CSO numbers, but since 1997 the hon. Gentleman’s own police force area has had 400 extra police officers and 154 CSOs—a very big increase in the forces available to fight for better law and order.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned fisheries. There was indeed an opportunity to discuss aspects of agriculture, which is what he asked about, during last week’s debates on the Queen’s Speech, but we will of course bear in mind his suggestion for a debate in Government time on agriculture.

On waterways, on Wednesday 6 December in Westminster Hall there will be a 90-minute debate about the impact of grant reduction on the work of British Waterways.

On guidance in respect of evidence-taking sessions under the new Public Bill arrangements, which the House agreed on 2 November, the arrangements for the equivalent of Special Standing Committees do not and will not come into force until 1 January. That was part of the decision made by the House to give the House authorities and Members on both sides time to get used to the arrangements and for there to be guidance laid down. While the name of the Committee has changed, that Committee will proceed under the old arrangements rather than the new.

On 12 September, the directors of Farepak wrote to hundreds of thousands of decent, hard-working families telling them that they had until 6 October to pay up. Seven days before, the company went into liquidation. We now know that Halifax Bank of Scotland walked away with more than £30 million of that money. We also know that it made a donation of nearly £2 million, £1.6 million of which was bank charges that it got from Farepak. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time that compassionate, caring institutions and individuals, including Government, local authorities and health authorities, reviewed their relationship with Halifax Bank of Scotland, with a view to withdrawing from it?

Of course, I understand greatly my hon. Friend’s concern, and I express yet again my appreciation and that of the House for the way in which he has fought for those who lost so much money, both as customers and employees of Farepak. He will understand that I cannot comment on the conduct of particular financial institutions, pending the outcome of the inquiry that is taking place. We accept, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade accepts, that the Government have responsibilities. The House may wish to know that the Government will be meeting Farepak employees’ entitlement to statutory redundancy pay and any arrears of pay, holiday pay and money in lieu of notice within the statutory limits.

The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, confirmed last night that she was prepared to meet me to discuss problems relating to magistrates courts in Macclesfield. I am grateful to her for that, and we shall meet before Christmas. It appears that the problems that we are encountering, which may be not untypical of other parts of the country, are caused by the underfunding of the Crown Prosecution Service and its inability to service the various courts, particularly in Cheshire and perhaps elsewhere. May we have a statement from the appropriate Minister and, if not, a debate in this place about the funding of the Crown Prosecution Service and the need to ensure the continuation of local justice in this country?

I do not have detailed figures with me, but I know for certain that Crown Prosecution Service funding has increased substantially, and that its performance has improved considerably, with more offences prosecuted and offenders brought to justice. Under any Government, there will be changes in the configuration of courts, for example, and I wish the hon. Gentleman well in his discussions with my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State.

The Leader of the House will be aware that many Members are concerned that adjustments in minimum targets for community support officers do not interfere with delivery of our commitment to neighbourhood policing. On another subject, does he agree that the deputy chief constable of Nottinghamshire’s proposal to divert heroin supply from drug dealers to general practitioners, to take heroin addicts out of the criminal orbit, deserves a serious debate? Bearing in mind the favourable Swiss experience, constituents who have talked to me are extremely positive about the proposal, although I also have colleagues who are more sceptical. The question needs and deserves a serious debate.

On the issue of the police grant, my hon. Friend’s area as a whole will receive a 5.1 per cent. increase in formula grant. As he knows, the numbers of police officers have increased significantly, along with appointments of community support officers, since we came to office. I agree that the treatment of those seriously addicted to drugs requires considerable debate. He will be aware that, in practice, the system being recommended by Nottinghamshire’s deputy chief constable existed in this country until about 1970, and was then changed. However, we must always search for new ways of dealing with such an intractable problem.

Can we have a debate on the fitting of explosive suppressant foam on the Hercules fleet? Despite the armed forces’ requesting that five years ago, the Secretary of State for Defence has confirmed that only two of the fleet have been fitted. As a consequence, Flight Lieutenant Stead, whose parents live in my constituency, died when his Hercules was shot down. Given that this nanny state Government are always passing laws to protect us from ourselves, can we get them to protect our armed forces, who are putting their lives at risk serving our country?

First, let me pay tribute to the crews of the Hercules fleet, with whom I have flown on many occasions into Iraq and Afghanistan. They are people of astonishing skill and bravery. Secondly, I will follow up the hon. Gentleman’s point and write to him. Thirdly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has the safety of service personnel as his highest priority.

I recently met a number of constituents who were in their late 70s and fairly frail, but who were being denied the home help service. I thought that that was a Leeds phenomenon, but the Leader of the House will know that, today, the Commission for Social Care Inspection reported that 100 out of 150 local authority providers are depriving the frail and vulnerable by supplying the home help service only to those with serious and critical illness. Does the Leader of the House share my dismay at the ending of home help service to ordinary, frail, vulnerable people? If so, will he draw it to the attention of his Cabinet colleague responsible, and provide some time in the Chamber for a public debate?

I will, of course, draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. I have examined this matter with some care. Local authorities are concentrating their increased resources more on those in greatest need, and therefore less on those in what is judged as lesser need. As for having a debate, as my hon. Friend knows, there are many opportunities to raise such matters on the Adjournment, either here or in Westminster Hall.

The head of the Home Office’s immigration and nationality directorate, Lin Homer, has been used as a ministerial body shield in the past. She cannot be held responsible, however, for the lack of provision of accommodation for failed asylum seekers and others. The prison system is in chaos. It is not good enough for the Home Secretary to hide behind a written statement. When will he come to the House, and when will we have a debate on the issue?

It is palpable nonsense to accuse the current Home Secretary of hiding behind anyone else. He is always delighted to be in the House—[Interruption.] He will be in the House in about 20 minutes, making a statement on something else. I am sorry to say that it was also my experience as Home Secretary that so many things can happen in the Home Office, sometimes on the same day, that there is an embarrassment of choice as to which difficulty must be dealt with in an oral statement, and which must wait. That situation has faced my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and it would even face a Conservative Home Secretary should such a situation ever arise.

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to look at early-day motion 195, on the UK’s Antarctic heritage?

[That this House notes that it will shortly will be the centenary of the Antarctic expeditions led by Sir Ernest Shackleton and Captain Robert Falcon Scott; believes that it would be an appropriate recognition of the achievements of the expeditions for the huts and artefacts used by the expedition on Ross Island, Antarctica, to be conserved for future generations; notes, however, that although funds have been secured to conserve Shackleton's hut and artefacts, insufficient funds are available for the conservation of Scott's hut and its artefacts at Cape Evans; and urges the Government to recognise the achievements and significance of Scott's heroic expedition by ensuring sufficient funding is made available for the conservation of his hut and its artefacts.]

As it is almost a century since the expeditions of Shackleton and Scott, will he ask his colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to consider ways of supporting the conservation of artefacts from the expeditions in Antarctica in the same generous way as the New Zealand Government are providing support?

I will certainly raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. I understand that part of the problem is that the Heritage Lottery Fund cannot be used, as the artefacts are overseas. I will follow the matter up and see what can be done.

It is proper that the Serious Fraud Office should investigate fraud and misdoing in business. Its current inquiry into BAE Systems, however, has been going on for a very long time. As the Leader of the House will know from aerospace workers in his constituency, that is now causing a great deal of concern, as it appears that the current inquiry is impacting on important negotiations for the sale of 72 Eurofighter Typhoons to the Saudi Arabian Government. May we have a statement next week from the Attorney-General indicating whether he is willing to put more resources into that inquiry to bring it to a conclusion and therefore to stop it gumming up the works of such important discussions?

The right hon. Gentleman and I share a constituency interest in this matter. I applaud the way in which he has represented the interests of the British aerospace industry, generally and today. He will, however, appreciate that I cannot comment on a continuing investigation by the Serious Fraud Office, other than to say that I will pass his remarks to my right hon. and noble Friend the Attorney-General.

May we debate early-day motion 319?

[That this House congratulates the Government on the success of its courageous reforms of the licensing laws enacted despite widespread hostility from opposition parties, the public and press; welcomes the halving of drugs deaths since 2001 following the Portuguese government's courageous decision to depenalise drugs against similar opposition; regrets that illegal drug use, crime and deaths persist at high levels in the United Kingdom; recognises the waste and futility of using the criminal justice system against drug addicts; and urges the Government to summon up the courage to challenge popular prejudice and adapt health solutions that have reduced drugs harm elsewhere.]

The motion congratulates the Government on their courage in introducing—in the face of almost total opposition from the press, public and Opposition parties—a licensing law that has proved very successful.

Before 1971 there were fewer than 1,000 addicts, virtually no drugs deaths and no drug crime. Now we have 280,000 addicts, and the highest rates of drug crime and drug deaths on our continent. Is it not time for the Government to summon up a little more courage, do the unpopular thing, and concentrate on drug policies that work rather than continuing with harsh prohibition?

A debate in which my hon. Friend could offer the Government further congratulations on their achievement would be cause for high celebration. I hope to arrange it as soon as possible, and hold him to his word.

As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) earlier, I believe that we should take account of experience, including experience of other countries. Certainly there is no perfect way of dealing with the very difficult problem of serious drug addiction.

The Leader of the House may be aware of early-day motion 238, which stands in my name.

[That this House notes that about 80,000 endowment policies are sold each year in the United Kingdom; acknowledges that there is a general recognition that while these policies provided a useful repayment vehicle for paying off mortgages when interest rates and stock market returns were much higher, this has not been the case for some time; and calls upon the financial services industry to undertake a fundamental re-assessment of the commission basis on which many of these products are sold in order to protect home owners who have depended on policy proceeds to redeem their mortgages.]

The motion draws attention to the fact that, year on year, about 80,000 endowment policies are still being sold in the United Kingdom. The primary purpose of endowment policies was supposed to be the repayment of mortgages, but they are clearly unsuitable for that purpose now. When may we have a debate to pressurise financial service providers to sell policies that are not driven solely by commission?

There will be plenty of opportunities for the hon. Gentleman to make his point. The difference between then and now is that the market is now much more regulated, and commission must be declared to the potential policyholder. It is also true that endowment policies have not always been sold to, and are not only useful to, those obtaining mortgages.

May I refer my right hon. Friend to early-day motion 360?

[That this House is appalled that while the City of London booms most cleaners there receive no sick pay, no pension, only the legal minimum holiday allowance, earn as little as 5.35 per hour and many take two jobs to make ends meet; commends the courageous campaign by cleaners in the City to secure a living wage; welcomes this campaign's extension to other major cities; believes that the cleaners' endeavours will lead to a real improvement in their treatment; notes that a living wage is about more than hourly pay but includes sick and holiday pay and pensions; contrasts the shocking gulf between the estimated 8.8 billion paid out in City bonuses this year with the poverty-pay cleaners must survive on in London, one of the most expensive cities in the world; recognises that global companies make significant profits by operating out of London and requests that they therefore behave responsibly towards their most vulnerable workers; is extremely concerned that progress towards a living wage is being impeded by the intransigence of the City's major banks and law firms' refusal to recognise the cleaners' trade union, the Transport and General Workers Union, and allow them to negotiate on behalf of the cleaners; and calls upon companies such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank, Barclays, Credit Suisse, CitiBank, Lehman Brothers, Nomura and Lovells to instruct their contract cleaners, including ISS, Lancaster and Initial, to settle with the Transport and General Workers Union on a living wage, holiday pay, pension, sick pay and union representation.]

The motion concerns living wages for cleaners, and the dispute with London merchant banks such as Goldman Sachs. According to the Transport and General Workers Union, a Christmas dinner for a typical family of four costing £14 per head—which is quite expensive—would take a cleaner a full day’s work to earn, while it would take a director of one of the banks less than 90 seconds, although it might take a little longer to earn the champagne. Is it not time the dispute was brought to an end, and cleaners were given a proper living wage?

I hope very much that the dispute is indeed brought to an end. My hon. Friend has reminded those involved of one of our many major achievements, the introduction of a living minimum wage.

The Leader of the House will be aware that blind people are currently excluded from the higher-rate mobility component of disability living allowance. It is extremely difficult for them to use buses, trains and the underground unless they are accompanied, so they are forced to use taxis and private hire vehicles, which are far more expensive. The problem is highlighted in early-day motion 46, which stands in my name.

[That this House expresses its concern that blind people are excluded from claiming the higher rate mobility component of disability living allowance; believes that blindness should be regarded as an impairment that has a severe impact on a person's independent mobility; notes the substantial extra costs that blind people have to pay to travel by taxi and private hire vehicle; and therefore calls on the Government to reconsider eligibility criteria which exclude blind people from being able to claim this important extra-cost benefit.]

The Leader of the House will also be aware that a mass lobby of the House by the blind is proposed for 4 December. Will he find an early opportunity for us to debate the issue?

I am certainly sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman’s point, and I will convey his concern to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. The hon. Gentleman will, however, understand that judgments must be made about the criteria for payment of the higher-rate component, and also about the use of resources.

An article in a back issue of The Political Quarterly, available in the Library, describes in precise detail how patrons’ clubs are being used to raise funds, employing the dining facilities of the House. As a number of Members have kindly put details of the cost of joining such clubs and the profit margins on their websites, and as the practice is forbidden by the House, is it not time we had a full debate enabling us to learn all the facts, such as who precisely are using patrons’ clubs—and other such clubs—every day, including today, to raise funds for the Conservative party?

The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), who chairs the Standards and Privileges Committee, is present. I know that he would be delighted to receive details of that alleged breach of the rules from my hon. Friend, or from any other Members.

May we have a debate on the arts? It will not be a very happy new year for them, because on 7 January 2007 the Theatre museum in Covent Garden will close its doors. It has one of the largest collections in the world, dating back to the 16th century. A debate would give the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport an opportunity to tell us that if the decision cannot be reversed, at least this wonderful collection could be put on display so that it can be seen by people not only from London, but from all over the world.

Subject only to time, I should be delighted to arrange a debate on the arts to demonstrate our support for museums; but the hon. Gentleman, who is a constituency neighbour of mine, can do better than that. He is trying to insinuate that all is dire when it comes to museums, but he will know that our record in museum attendance and funding has been astonishing—not least because we broke with the Conservative policy of charging for entry. Entry is now free, and there has been a huge increase in investment. As a result, museum patronage has increased.

As for the hon. Gentleman’s specific point, if he gives me the details I will follow them up.

May we have a statement on ministerial training? I understand that the first ever training course for junior Ministers was held at the National School of Government in Sunningdale only recently. Given all the controversy about the management of the Home Office and other Departments, it would be nice to be told how people are getting on.

I think that the success of the training is perfectly obvious. If the hon. Gentleman is pitching for a role as a tutor to keep Ministers on their toes, I will ensure that his offer is passed on.

The Leader of the House will know that on the advice of one of his predecessors we changed our Standing Orders, and are now obliged to set up a Standing Committee on the English Regions. He will also know that, 18 months into the current Parliament, the Government have failed to provide such a Committee. As we appear to be doing perfectly well without it, will he change the Standing Orders back to how they were?

My right hon. Friend is, I hope, aware of the Bill being introduced in the other place by Lord Dubs to ban cluster munitions. A useful debate was held here last Monday on an Adjournment motion, initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton). I am pleased to learn that the Government intend to support the ban on dumb cluster munitions, but, following the Government’s wonderful leadership on landmines, is it not about time we also banned cluster munitions? Would it be possible to bring the Bill here from the Lords, as a matter of urgency?

I cannot promise that we can bring the Bill here quickly, but I can promise that I will talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence about the views expressed so eloquently by my hon. Friend, and then contact him again.

May I wish you, Mr. Speaker, and the Leader of the House a happy St. Andrew’s day? Last week, I asked the Leader of the House for a debate on further constitutional change. Since then, we have found that there is majority support not only for Scottish independence but for English independence. Therefore, may I urge the Leader of the House not to arrange such a debate, and to continue to do absolutely nothing about the West Lothian question because everything is working out spectacularly well?

On a matter on which we can all agree, I return the compliment and wish the hon. Gentleman and all his friends a happy St. Andrew’s day. On the wider issue, I commend to the House a brilliant article by Mr. David Aaronovitch that tore apart the position of the Scottish National party. He wrote about the SNP inhabiting a parallel world in which it pretends both everything to every person and that there will be no difficult choices to be made if that dreadful event befalls Scotland and it goes independent. If it does go independent, that will be a bad day for Scotland, as well as for the other nations in the United Kingdom.

The Leader of House will be aware of concerns expressed recently by the TUC that interns were being exploited by some Members of this House who paid them nothing but expected them to work full-time hours. May we have a debate on that to ensure that we are not setting a bad example to industry by failing to practise what we preach with regard to workers’ terms and conditions?

I am not totally sympathetic to that. I used to have interns working for me, and as I had no money to pay them the arrangement was that while they were working for me they were supported by their university or their parents. They benefited from that and so did everybody else. I usually do my best to agree with colleagues, but in this instance I cannot agree. I think that there is a real role for internship. We should not exploit interns but, for example, I provide work experience in my constituency, and I would like to pay everybody who comes through my door—

The queue is so long that I could run a bidding system, but I am so charitable that I do not do that.

I have never seen any direct evidence of internship being exploited. I think that it is a sensible system that benefits young people. The more we can encourage young people to have a taste of the real political process from a range of political perspectives, the better.

The Leader of the House is not usually given to hyperbole but he did err in that direction in responding to a question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) on back garden development. Could that be because the Government have a guilty secret? They think that back garden development and the pressure on housing in the south-east is a result only of people unreasonably setting up new families and living longer, when there is in fact a third reason: the 500,000 new people who came into this country last year, and the many more people who come every year. Perhaps we could have a debate on that?

First, let me say that the Government have many secrets but none of them is guilty. Secondly, I was not trying to be hyperbolic; I was simply trying to set out the facts. Of course there is immigration into this country, but factories and firms in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency would not be operating effectively but for immigration from, for example, eastern Europe, and that is certainly true for my constituency as well. We agreed to the expansion of the European Union and what went with that. We should celebrate the fact that we have a booming economy—it is particularly booming in London and the south-east—and then make proper arrangements to cope with some of the consequences of that, which include great pressure on housing.

As the Leader of the House uncharacteristically failed to explain properly why the Prime Minister is not making the NATO summit statement today, may I give him another opportunity to do so by asking him first to confirm that the Prime Minister has always given the NATO summit statement, and secondly to agree that the summit in Riga was of immense importance bearing in mind NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan and the failure of some member states to play their full role? Finally, will he give us an assurance that the next Prime Minister will make a statement on the next NATO summit from the Dispatch Box?

I take the right hon. Gentleman at his word if he says that the Prime Minister has in the past given the statement about the NATO summit. I also say to him that Members of this House cannot have it both ways: on the one hand the Prime Minister is taunted for taking too much control over Ministers, but on the other hand when he sensibly delegates responsibility to a senior colleague—who, in this instance, attended the event—he is criticised for not being present. This Prime Minister has made more statements per year than previous Prime Ministers. He will make a statement on the future of the Trident system on Monday, and I support him on the matter asked about. It is perfectly reasonable that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence makes the statement today. It was an important summit, but he attended it and can give good witness as to what was decided at it.

May we have a statement on the legislative process for the climate change Bill, and specifically on whether it will be appropriate for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee to take on a pre-legislative scrutiny role?

I will talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about that. The answer to the question is that that partly depends on whether the Bill is published in draft. The proposal in the Queen’s Speech is that we have a Bill rather than a draft Bill, but we did think about having a draft Bill. If it is published in final form, because it will have its Second Reading after 1 January, it will in any event be subject to the much improved Public Bill Committee stage that the Modernisation Committee proposed and the House has endorsed, including an inquiry over the first three or four sittings.

May we have a debate on how we can work with wildlife trusts, bat, butterfly and moth conservation groups and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in utilising the £2.7 million additional spending that has been announced by the Department for Education and Skills for taking the curriculum outside the classroom so that we can reconnect our young people with the natural environment?

I will do my best to support my hon. Friend on that. I also pay tribute to the RSPB because it has one of the largest memberships of any organisation in the country. It not only gives a lot of pleasure to its 1.3 million—I think—members, but plays a major role in preserving the environment and providing indicators of future trends in climate change.

May we please have a statement or debate on the provision of speech and language therapy to young offenders? Given that the governor of Polmont young offenders institution has stated that his speech and language therapist is his single most important member of staff who, by enabling boys to access education and express their needs, is vital to their rehabilitation, does the Leader of the House accept that, as Lord Ramsbotham has long argued, it is important that the Government make a firm commitment to ensure that a speech and language therapist is attached to every young offenders institution in this country?

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is present and listened to what the hon. Gentleman said. We would all like speech and language therapists to be attached to all offenders institutions, but that is a matter of priorities and of the availability of such skilled individuals.

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Sentencing Advisory Panel has recommended to the courts that custodial sentences be dropped for shoplifting? The manager and the entire staff of a large supermarket in Ampthill in my constituency have written of their great concern at that decision, because such sentences are the only disincentive to shoplifting. Given that the retail industry will probably have one of its worst ever years because of online shopping, that is far from helpful. Should such a measure not be debated and discussed in the House and be introduced as an amendment to existing legislation, rather than be a recommendation from an independent body?

That is a recommendation from an advisory body; it is not a decision by Ministers. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has confirmed from a sedentary position that Ministers have not yet made a decision on that recommendation. The concerns of the hon. Lady and her constituents will of course be taken into account, and I think that they are widely shared across the House.

The Government have made no statement whatsoever about the budget for the Olympic games since the Lords amendment to the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Bill was discussed in this House in March. Bearing in mind the considerable press speculation and the fact that the Government are refusing to answer parliamentary written questions on it—they are simply using the formula, “A review is in progress and the results will be announced in due course”—will the Leader of the House ask the Olympics Minister to make a statement to this House? There are many Members in all parts of the House who, although they support the Olympic games and wish to continue to do so, feel that the lack of transparency and accountability is doing the Olympic process enormous damage.

As Chairman of the Cabinet Committee responsible for the Olympics, I can say that we will of course provide the House with detailed and further information when it is available. However, a review is continuing, and much of the press speculation is just that. Meanwhile, I hope that the hon. Gentleman has taken note of the high praise offered to the forthcoming London Olympics and its state of organisation and readiness by the chairman and senior executives of the International Olympic Committee, who met yesterday.