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Business of the House

Volume 470: debated on Thursday 10 January 2008

With permission, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week.

Monday 14 January—Second Reading of the Education and Skills Bill.

Tuesday 15 January—Motion to approve a Ways and Means resolution on the Health and Social Care Bill, followed by motion to approve the payments into the Olympic Lottery Distribution Fund etc. Order 2007, followed by consideration in Committee of the European Communities (Finance) Bill, followed by remaining stages of the European Communities (Finance) Bill.

Wednesday 16 January—Opposition Day [6th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate entitled “Pensioner Poverty”, followed by a debate entitled “Human Trafficking”. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Thursday 17 January—Topical debate. Subject to be announced, followed by remaining stages of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions) Bill.

Friday 18 January—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 21 January will include:

Monday 21 January—Second Reading of the European Union (Amendment) Bill.

Tuesday 22 January—Second Reading of the Energy Bill.

Wednesday 23 January—Opposition Day [7th Allotted Day] (First Part). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced, followed by remaining stages of the Student Loans Bill.

Thursday 24 January—Topical debate, subject to be announced, followed by motions relating to Senior Salaries Review Body report on parliamentary pay, pensions and allowances.

Friday 25 January—Private Members’ Bills.

Next Wednesday, 16 January, the Government will publish the report of the Senior Salaries Review Body on parliamentary pay, pensions and allowances. At the same time, we will issue a written ministerial statement setting out the Government’s response and table the relevant motions that will be debated by the House on the following Thursday, 24 January. Because of the difficult decisions that we have taken over the past year to stage the public sector pay awards, inflation has fallen, and that has allowed the Bank of England to keep interest rates down. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear, as Members of this House, we too—[Hon. Members: “This is a business statement.”] As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear—[Interruption.]

As Members of this House, we too are paid from the public purse, and it is right that we should be subject to the same disciplines on public sector pay as the rest of the public sector.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I respect the fact that the Leader of the House is trying to be helpful, but this is not business—it is something else—and I ask you to guide her to make this statement at an appropriate time—[Interruption.]

Order. I am sorry, but I did not hear the conclusion of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks because of the noise in the Chamber.

I invite you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to advise the Leader of the House on how she might help us by giving a statement in the right way and at the right time.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Perhaps I can assist the House by explaining that I was saying that because I am about to make an announcement that is important to the House about how, in future, the pay and pensions of Members of this House will be set.

I am dealing with a point of order at the moment. In responding to that, I suggest to the Leader of the House that however helpful she is attempting to be in this matter, we are really dealing with the business of the House for next week rather than the detail that she was trying to be helpful in giving to the House at this stage.

I apologise if I have strayed out of order, but I was hoping to explain to the House that we will publish the SSRB report in advance of debating it so that Members will know that they will have adequate time to debate it, and so that they will know that this will possibly be the last time that they will have to go through that exercise because of the review that we intend to set up.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business. I also thank her for giving us an insight into the speech that she will give on 24 January in the debate on the SSRB report. I note that she was attempting to make a statement to the House on the Government’s position before the Government have published that position and before Members have seen the SSRB report.

On an entirely different subject, can the right hon. and learned Lady ensure that at around the time of St. David’s day we have a debate on Welsh affairs?

Yesterday, the Prime Minister was less than convincing when he tried to explain his ever-shifting policy on ID cards. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has written to him and has not received a reply. When will the Prime Minister make a clear statement to the House on his position on ID cards?

Last year, the Government graciously accepted the Modernisation Committee’s recommendation to have topical debates, yet only the first debate was genuinely topical. Since then, the right hon. and learned Lady has selected subjects to match the Government’s news agenda. Will she now listen to the House and agree to a topical debate on Sir John Tooke’s report on the shambolic handling of the recruitment system for junior doctors?

Yesterday, despite the importance of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, we had only one day to debate its remaining stages. Many amendments were not debated. Can the right hon. and learned Lady make a statement on why the consideration of this important Bill was cut short?

In November, in response to a question from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister promised to make available in the Library details of the “preventing violent extremism” programme. Despite repeated promises from Ministers, the information is still not there. When will it be placed in the Library?

When the Prime Minister still claimed to be a change, he promised to

“entrust more power to Parliament”.

Since then, the Government have made no fewer than 28 policy announcements to the media before Parliament. Just this week, we have had press briefings on the NHS, nuclear power stations and deactivated firearms. When will the Leader of the House ensure that her ministerial colleagues, including the Prime Minister, do what he promised and put Parliament first? Every week, she tells us that she puts Parliament first, yet every week her colleagues treat Parliament with disdain.

Another of the Prime Minister’s changed policies was that there should be a deep clean of hospitals to fight superbugs. Yet now we know that only 50 out of 1,500 NHS hospitals have had a deep clean. The cost of the treatment is coming out of existing budgets, and the Health Secretary thinks that it is all a waste of time. When will the Health Secretary come to the House to make a statement on the Prime Minister’s deep clean programme?

Yet another of the Prime Minister’s new policies was, notoriously, to promise British jobs for British workers. However, as we now know, 80 per cent. of new jobs go to migrant workers, the Government have lost a court ruling on foreign junior doctors, and the Government are weakening the resident labour market test. Will the beleaguered Work and Pensions Secretary take a break from the mess that he has created and make a statement to the House on the mess created by the Prime Minister?

Do not those examples tell the sad truth about this Prime Minister? In the words of his own right hand man, he simply cannot claim to be the change, and is not that why his latest relaunch is doomed to fail?

The right hon. Lady raised the question of ID cards. The Prime Minister made the Government’s position clear to the House yesterday, particularly in relation to the importance of biometric information on passports and on visas for foreign nationals, and to the fact that if there were any progress towards making that compulsory for British nationals, it would be in the light of experience that we would be bringing it back for a vote of this House. That is, and remains, the position on ID cards.

We have had a number of topical debates—in Government time, as the House will remember—on matters that are important regionally, nationally or internationally, topical and of public interest. We have so far debated immigration, climate change, apprenticeships and financial problems for low-income families, and I invite all hon. Members to continue to propose subjects that they think are topical. One of the problems is that in order to give Members enough time to plan to be part of a topical debate, we give out information and make the decision earlier in the week. Because that process happens earlier in the week, the subject is inevitably less topical by the time we debate it later in the week. [Laughter.] The reality is that there is a trade-off between giving people notice and topicality, but we have committed to review the situation, as we undertook to the House and the Modernisation Committee, and we will do so.

The right hon. Lady mentioned the recruitment of junior doctors. She will know that we have recently had the publication of important work undertaken as part of the Tooke report.

Indeed. I am dealing with it because the right hon. Lady asked about it. On that basis, we will go forward in consultation with the British Medical Association to improve the situation.

The right hon. Lady mentioned the amount of time the House had to debate the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill on Report. We sought to make extra time available yesterday, but we acknowledge that it did not turn out to be enough. If we have the opportunity, consistent with ensuring the implementation of the Bill—particularly with regard to the time-critical issue of prison officers’ right to strike—we shall see whether we can find some extra time when the Bill returns to this House on consideration of Lords amendments. We all agree that the amount of time spent last night was unsatisfactory.

The situation has raised a point that we will face again, and which business managers need to talk about: the amount of time available for this House to debate major Bills on Report. A number of major Bills have received a Second Reading or will receive it soon, and the question is whether enough time for Report is structured in, or whether we should seek to find more. If we do the latter, it will put pressure on the amount of time that the House has to debate non-legislative issues, or we will end up doing so at the expense of the amount of time hon. Members are able to spend in their constituencies. We all want enough time for scrutiny on Report, and we need to address this matter, especially in the light of the House’s experience last night.

The right hon. Lady talked about the Government’s approach to tackling extremism and our action on that, and I shall look into the points that she made.

Once again, the right hon. Lady made accusations and asserted that Ministers were making policy statements to the media that were rightly for this House. She gave a number of examples. I look into every single example, and I take the matter very seriously. I agree that it is important that Ministers are answerable to this House rather than the media. One example that she cited was the announcement today by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary about deactivated firearms. I looked into that matter before I came to the House today because there are always judgments to be made in such situations, and I wanted to know what the background to this one was and why the announcement was not the subject of an oral statement to the House.

The issue in question is an intention that will be subject to consultation. It is a detailed and complex area, about which there will be consultation, and my right hon. Friend will come to the House with any proposals before we are asked to consider them in legislation. We have a business statement today and an important debate later on Army personnel; we also have a topical debate today, and we have had an important debate on energy. The question is whether it would have been right for her to come to the House to make a statement about the launch of a consultation about deactivated firearms. As far as I am concerned, she made a sensible judgment, which I am quite happy to defend to the House. I do not agree that we are not putting Parliament first.

The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) talked about hospital-acquired infection. We are on target to progress with our deep cleans, and we do not think that they are a waste of time, as she alleged.

He did not say that. We think that patients value them, and they are very important.

The right hon. Lady also talked about migration. I remind her that we discuss that matter often in the House, and one of the key issues to keep under consideration is the Government’s migration impact forum.

I wish the right hon. Lady and the whole House a happy new year.

May I bring the Leader of the House back to MPs’ pay? When I was first in the House, we worked ourselves up into a great state about our pay. The Government, led by Mrs. Thatcher, made it plain that what we wanted was against the level of settlement that they wished us to award ourselves. We passed our resolution, we incurred the displeasure of our constituents, and Mrs. T brought forward an order that fitted her wages policy. Before we debate our resolution on MPs’ pay, may I ask the Leader of the House whether the same procedure, in which we pass a resolution that cannot become effective until the Government place an order for us to vote on, will operate? Before we vote—and perhaps make fools of ourselves—will she tell us whether the Government will bring forward only an order that fits their wages policy for the public sector?

My right hon. Friend is right. The process, under the current procedures of this House, of setting, debating and voting on our pay, pensions and allowances is as he described it, based on his memories. That is why many Members say that they find it unacceptable, and we know that the public do not accept that MPs should decide their own pay and pensions by voting. Therefore, we intend to review the procedures for setting MPs’ pay and pensions in the future, with a view to examining options that find objective criteria for pay determination within a framework that does not require Members to vote.

Order. Clearly, many Members are hoping to raise questions on this statement. May I ask that there be a single supplementary question put briefly to the Minister and a short response.

Madam Deputy Speaker—[Laughter.] You may not have been very helpful by making that point then, rather than later. [Interruption.] I am standing my ground.

We had an energy statement, which was important; it may or may not have been welcome. Following the questions put to the Prime Minister yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg), our new party leader, and my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Steve Webb), our new energy spokesman, on fuel costs and fuel poverty, will the Leader of House provide time in the near future for a debate on the effects of rising international fuel costs on people in this country and their fuel bills? Throughout the country, many people are finding the increased costs a difficult burden, and we would all benefit from a discussion about where we are, and where we can go to reduce the gap between rich and poor.

We have just had the end of the consultation period on the Government’s proposed local government settlement for the next three years. The right hon. and learned Lady will know, from our constituencies, that there is much unhappiness among all parties about the proposed tight settlement, and in relation to all councils and types of councils in England. Before we have the “big bang” debate later this month where we vote on whether we accept the settlement, could she find time for a debate that gives colleagues the chance to explore the impact of the proposals of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government for their type of council?

On Members’ pay, pensions and allowances, may I help the right hon. and learned Lady by suggesting that, next Wednesday, when the Government propose to publish the report from the independent body, she comes to the House after Prime Minister’s questions and makes a statement, which we can explore, on the Government’s position, so that the House is well informed in the week before we debate the issues? That is sensible and will facilitate the most managed method of dealing with the amendments that will inevitably be tabled.

The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) made an early bid for a Welsh debate around St. David’s day. We have had a terrible time in parts of the Commonwealth—Pakistan and Kenya—over Christmas and the new year. Commonwealth day is 10 March. May we have an annual Commonwealth day debate so that those of us who believe that the Commonwealth should and can be effective can try to persuade the Government to use their influence to ensure that democracy is supported more effectively throughout the Commonwealth?

Lastly, following the big issue of yesterday, the Leader of the House has been helpful. We had a seven-and-a-half-hour Report stage on the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. More than four fifths of that time—more than six hours—was spent on Government new clauses, new schedules and amendments. There were 120 of them, all on matters that should not take time away from Government Back Benchers and Opposition Members. There were nine debates to be had on issues as important as blasphemy, prostitution, sex offences, pornography and personal data; yet we had only one out of nine. May I suggest that, in future, we negotiate the time for Report stage, which is the time for Back-Bench and Opposition contributions, and that if the Government want to do their own thing, they do it in extra time that they add to the agreed time? Only by doing that can we avoid the nonsense of the House of Commons considering one of the major Bills of the year but debating only what the Government wish to discuss, as happened yesterday.

The hon. Gentleman reinforced the points about the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. He expressed what is largely a shared view. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) had already raised the points with me, so I was well aware of the concerns. In the interests of brevity, I shall not add to my comments in response to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead, but we take the point, which was well made.

On the energy statement and fuel costs, fuel poverty and fuel costs were raised many times in the topical debate before Christmas on people living on low incomes. However, the subject could be considered for a further topical debate and I am sure that it will be discussed on Second Reading of the Energy Bill next week.

There are obviously further proposals to make on the local government settlement, but Communities and Local Government questions will take place on 15 January, which is next week. The hon. Gentleman is right that it has been a tight settlement. We must be careful with the public finances, but there has been a real-terms increase, which has been important year on year in areas such as my constituency and his in the London borough of Southwark. There has been a real-terms increase, despite the growing demand and the fact that we would all like more.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether, when we publish the SSRB report on 16 January, which is next Wednesday, and the written ministerial statement which sets out our position, and table our resolutions, we should make an oral statement. We are trying to make the written ministerial statement, which will be the Government’s response to the SSRB report on MPs’ pay, as full and as explanatory as possible so that we not only table the resolutions and enable hon. Members to examine them straight away and consider their amendments, but ensure that they have the Government’s argument, set out as fully as possible, in an inevitably lengthy written ministerial statement. That will give hon. Members quite enough material to work out whether—and if so, how—they want to amend the resolutions. They will have more than a full week before the debate on 24 January. A written but full ministerial statement is the right approach.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned St. David’s day, which is not for two months. The debate does not always take place on the day, but we always have a debate for Wales within 12 calendar months. He mentioned Commonwealth affairs. The Foreign Secretary recently made a statement to the House on Pakistan and Kenya. I will bear the hon. Gentleman’s point in mind, bring it to the attention of the Foreign Secretary and ask my right hon. Friend to come to the House if there are further points that he needs to make about the Commonwealth.

Would it be possible to have a debate next week on the total lack of democratic accountability of the housing trusts that took over our council housing following various stock transfers? I have realised in the past few days that they are outside the remit of the freedom of information legislation, which makes matters even worse.

I am well aware of my hon. Friend’s point and I know she wants to ensure that her constituents have not only high quality housing but some measure of redress if that is not the case, and that there is proper accountability. The Government are considering that important issue and we hope that there will be an opportunity in the next Session to introduce a housing Bill, which deals not with the supply side—the subject of the current measure—but issues such as the rights of tenants. I know that my hon. Friend will play a major part in contributing to policy development on the matter.

Further to the questions about next Wednesday’s business, what conceivable reason can there be for the Government’s not placing in the Library today a copy of the SSRB report, which they have had since July, about which the Leader of the House sought to make a statement today, and which is widely available in the media?

The SSRB report is not yet printed. [Hon. Members: “July!”] We need to be sure that the leaders of Opposition parties have sufficient time to read the report before its publication. [Interruption.] Just bear with me.

We need to be sure that leaders of Opposition parties have enough time to consider the report so that they can make their responses to the Government before we publish our response. [Hon. Members: “Why?”] It is also crucial that Back Benchers have sufficient time to examine the resolutions, consider the amendments that they might want to make and consider the full report.

The right hon. Lady claims from a sedentary position that leaders of the Opposition have not had a copy of the report. That concerns me. [Interruption.] Let me just say that a copy of the report was given to her party leader on Monday.

I am reassured that the leader of the Liberal Democrats has received his copy. That leads me to believe that the Leader of the Opposition has not told the shadow Leader of the House that he has got a copy or what is in it.

How have we once again got ourselves into a position whereby we are invited to vote on our remuneration, given that we have been assured on several occasions during the 20 or so years that I have been in this place that it would not happen again? If we are to set up a review, can we ensure that it does not include too many complex criteria? Surely the solution is to link our remuneration to the fortunes of preferably the humblest of our constituents and leave it that way for eternity.

If we had acted on my hon. Friend’s suggestion a number of years ago, we would not be in the position that we are in now. He tabled a motion that we should not set our own pay and that it should be indexed. I have announced to the House that we are now acting in the spirit of his proposals, albeit some years on.

Further to the earlier exchanges on the subject, can we please have a debate on the Floor of the House next week on the Government’s approach to the programming of the Report stage of each and every Bill, in the course of which it would be possible, among other ideas, to consider the merits of the imposition of time limits on Back-Bench speeches?

I think that this issue needs further consideration, not just in the debate about programme motions, but by taking it in the round and looking ahead. That involves both consultation with the usual channels and the business managers reflecting on it. I very much take the hon. Gentleman’s point.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of this morning’s report about British troops serving in Afghanistan being given blood supplied by the Americans that had not been properly screened? Those troops are now going through the horror of waiting to see whether they have HIV, hepatitis B or other sexually transmitted diseases. Given that our fine soldiers are out there doing what they are doing, they should not be subjected to that. Can we have a statement as soon as possible?

I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. She is right to want to ensure that our troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq receive the highest possible standard of medical support and health care. The issue that she raises is one that she or other hon. Members might have the opportunity to raise in this afternoon’s debate on armed services personnel.

Can the Leader of the House make time for an urgent debate on the Select Committee on Health report that was published today? The report highlights the vital job that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence does in difficult circumstances, but identifies problems that need to be resolved. I am concerned in particular about the problem that some primary care trusts have in implementing NICE guidelines on IVF treatment. Can she arrange for a debate in Government time?

The Government are of course considering their position on the Health Committee’s important report. We, too, share its view of the good work that NICE does. If the hon. Lady wants to make points about the report in advance of the Government’s response, she will have an opportunity to do so in another of the much-maligned topical debates, which will take place in a few minutes.

Yesterday, without any discussion on the Floor of the House, we sent a Bill down to the other place that contained clause 105, which will result in the jailing of quite a number of women engaged in prostitution and criminalise thousands of them if it is eventually enacted. I found that lack of discussion terribly frustrating. There was also an important amendment on, effectively, zero tolerance that needed discussing.

Ministers have gone to Sweden and Amsterdam today to study prostitution and, yesterday, the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) announced that there would be a Bill in the fourth Session of this Parliament on prostitution. May I therefore suggest two alternatives to my right hon. and learned Friend? We could either have a topical debate next week on prostitution, so that we can give guidance to the other place on the feelings of elected Members of this House, or we could take those clauses out of the Bill entirely and include them in the Bill to be introduced in the fourth Session of Parliament.

My hon. Friend makes an important and constructive point, which I shall certainly reflect on. As he said, the Home Secretary has announced a six-month review period on the law relating to prostitution. As my hon. Friend also said, the issue will be debated in the other place, and I will also look at whether there will be an opportunity for a topical debate to consider it.

Will there be time for a debate on disabled people’s access to public transport? In particular, perhaps the relevant Minister could explain in that debate why there will be no companion passes to help disabled people travel under the concessionary bus pass scheme.

We have oral questions to the Secretary of State for Transport a week on Tuesday. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could take the opportunity to ask her then.

I hope that the Leader of the House has acknowledged the huge concerns about yesterday’s performance in the Report stage of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. However, I am unclear about what the proposals are to ensure that that simply does not happen again. We increased the size of a Bill by roughly a third and denied the House a debate on major issues, as many hon. Members have acknowledged. Can we have an assurance that that will simply never happen again and that there will be sufficient time for a proper debate on Report? Can we also have an assurance that the points that the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) made will be taken on board, namely that the time when we legitimately question the report from the relevant Committee—that is what it is supposed to be—should be separated and that if the Government wish to introduce new clauses on such major issues as prison officers’ right to strike, that should be done in Government time, rather than taking away from our opportunity legitimately to question the legislation?

My hon. Friend makes the point well. He recognises that there will always be a need to add to Bills when time-critical issues arise, as they did with the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill and the question of prison officers’ right to strike. However, we want to ensure that Government amendments are added in such a way that they are sufficiently debated and scrutinised in the Chamber, that that does not squeeze out the opportunity of Back Benchers to table amendments to the Bill that are in order and that they, too, are properly debated. I take his point.

Normally when a Prime Minister answers repeatedly and woodenly, “This is Government policy,” most of us smell a dither and a U-turn coming, so can we have a guarantee from the Leader of the House that when the identity card scheme finally comes to an end, there will be a quick statement at the Dispatch Box from the Prime Minister and not from the Home Secretary?

Our position on identity cards is absolutely clear. We are pressing on. When it comes to dithering and U-turning, plenty of us are greatly confused by the Conservative party’s position on ID cards.

Can the Leader of the House organise for the Department for Work and Pensions to have a debate so as to explain to the House the regulations or other arrangements that the new Child Support Agency will operate under? In 1998, I secured an interim assessment on behalf of a resident parent from, basically, a reluctant payer who would not return the inquiry form. The new enforcement team decided in October last year that he owed £46,000 to his children, but that could not be recovered, because some of it cannot be recovered from before 2000. The team has now written to say that because the inquiry form was returned unopened, it has decided to reduce his liability to nil. Is the CSA really saying that anybody who does not want to pay should just stick the form back in the post with “Gone away” on it?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The biggest problem in child support is fathers who do not want to discharge their responsibilities to their children and who instead want the taxpayer to support them. That creates challenges. He makes an important point that needs to be addressed, so I shall bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and ask him to liaise with my hon. Friend to discuss it.

Can we have a debate on the Prime Minister and his Government’s attitude to Parliament? Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Prime Minister opens that debate, so that he has an opportunity to explain what has changed since the fine words in his statement to the House on 3 July and, in particular, to say why, less than one hour after answering Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, he was not here to vote for the quite disgraceful programme motion put before the House? The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), said at the Dispatch Box that he would probably not be voting for it unless he had to make the case for it.

Can the right hon. and learned Lady also explain why, in referring to what happened yesterday, she said, “As it turns out,” as though it was a surprise? If the Government continue to treat Parliament as though we are that stupid, she cannot be surprised at the reception that she has received this afternoon.

As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a statement in July about the governance of Britain and the importance of Parliament within it. Nothing has changed since then.

Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on social mobility—a subject that is permanently topical and of growing interest to all parties. Given the Opposition parties’ hostility to the Government’s admirable policy, announced this week, of shifting the Higher Education Funding Council budget to give an advantage to those who have never been to university, given the Opposition’s policy of hostility to extending the participation age to 18 and given the continuing hostility to the Government’s policies of fair admissions in schools and universities, would not a debate on social mobility enable us to identify not only the factors holding it back, but the most effective policies for improving it?

My hon. Friend will know—he shares the Government’s total commitment to tackling poverty and promoting social mobility—that all the policy issues, Government programmes and legislation that he has identified are directed towards that end. The Government’s commitment is fundamental. I know that all the issues he raised are explicitly included in social mobility, but I will look to see whether a further opportunity to debate it, perhaps in a topical debate, might be possible.

May I suggest a topical debate on the dangerous shambles of the consultation on the proposed expansion of Heathrow airport? The Secretary of State for Transport never appeared before the House to be held to account and it now turns out that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was never involved in the environmental modelling work on the Heathrow expansion. The proposal will affect millions of people and it concerns the environment, the economy and climate change. It is also controversial, so if that is not topical enough for a topical debate, what is?

I did tell the House, including the hon. Lady, that I considered Heathrow expansion as a subject for a topical debate before Christmas. I accept that many Members are concerned to debate the issues surrounding expansion. I did not pick it in the end because, after the consultation document was issued but before the end of the consultation period next month, those issues were discussed in a Westminster Hall debate. If the hon. Lady wants to explain why, notwithstanding that debate, Heathrow expansion remains a good subject for a topical debate, she can talk to me about it or drop me an e-mail.

I am aware that the House will debate preventive health services for a full 90 minutes later this afternoon, but I ask the Leader of the House to find time for a specific debate on the future of NHS dentistry. Does she agree that doing so is even more important in view of the revelations in The Independent today that show that health care in this country is now the most expensive in Europe?

There will, as the hon. Gentleman says, be an opportunity to raise the ever-topical subject of NHS dentistry in this afternoon’s debate, but let me remind the House that more people have NHS dentistry now than at any previous time. We want to increase still further the number of people who have an NHS dentist, but it is more than ever before. In addition, we are increasing the number of dentistry students going through our high-quality dentistry schools.

Pursuant to the earlier remarks of the Leader of the House about the report of the Senior Salaries Review Body, will she explain in her inquiry mode whether she looked into how, earlier this year and before any Member of Parliament saw a copy of the report, so much of the information was made available to Sunday newspapers and other broadcast media? If the report has not yet been printed, how has the chairman of the parliamentary pensions system been able to get a copy of it?

It is custom and practice for Leaders of the Opposition and chairs of the trustees of parliamentary pensions to receive a draft copy before it goes to the printers. That has, indeed, occurred on this occasion. As to the various speculations in the newspapers about the SSRB report, we will have to wait until it is published to establish whether the leaks were accurate.

On public sector pay policy, it is not jumping the gun in respect of the SSRB report for the Prime Minister to point out—and for the Government to strongly take the view—that we are paid out of the public purse. That being the case, we should expect to have the same public sector pay discipline applied to us as has been applied to the rest of the public sector as we take the difficult decision to ensure that pay is staged so that inflation stays down and interest rates remain low in order for the economy to remain strong.

Will it be possible to include in the resolutions on the SSRB report a call for Parliament to review the issue of the communications allowance? It is widely rumoured that the SSRB report is highly critical of the Government’s communications allowance, whereby £10,000 goes to every Labour MP in a hard-pressed constituency for propaganda purposes—

I do not use it at all. We need to ensure that a proposal to remove the communications allowance, thereby saving taxpayers a lot of money, is put fairly and squarely before the House for resolution.

I just want to correct the misapprehension that the communications allowance is available only to Labour Members. It is available to all MPs who are concerned to communicate with their constituents. I believe that it is extremely important for MPs to be able to communicate to their constituents the important work they do in the House in their constituents’ interests. I can tell the hon. Gentleman and the House that 547 Members have claimed the communications allowance. As I say, it is certainly not just for Labour MPs. When the allowance was set up, it was agreed that its operation should be subject to review by the House authorities. That review is under way. As to what changes to the allowance, if any, are proposed by the SSRB, the hon. Gentleman will be able to find out next Wednesday.

May I press the Leader of the House on her earlier responses to questions about ID cards? In her reply to the shadow Leader of the House, she used the example of including biometric data on passports, which is clearly a narrower and more voluntary system in comparison with the Government’s earlier statements on having a mandatory and national ID cards scheme. What we want to find out and what the Leader of the House was subsequently asked is whether the Government remain committed to such a scheme and whether the Prime Minister will make a statement on whether the Government plan to introduce moves in that direction.

I think the Prime Minister commented on that yesterday in response to a question in Prime Minister’s questions. I have repeated what he said and I do not think that I can add anything further to it.

The Leader of the House says that she is looking into the possibility of having debates on Wales and on the Commonwealth. May I urge her to think also about having a debate on London issues? We used to have an annual debate on London, which allowed Members with London constituencies and others to raise all sorts of general issues about London. Will she therefore think about adding such a debate to her list for consideration?

May I take the Leader of the House back to a point about statements raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May)? Is it not the case that the Prime Minister is the worst offender with his announcement on NHS screening and his confirmation of the Cabinet’s decision on nuclear power? Also, we all have a fair idea about where the leaks on the SSRB are coming from. The Leader of the House often refers to herself as the House’s policeman, but is it not the case that the Prime Minister has effectively taken away and broken her truncheon, leaving her powerless?

The Prime Minister has made more oral statements to the House than I can recall ever happening before. As I have said, there is always a balance to be struck as to whether issues should be announced via oral questions, a written ministerial statement, an oral statement or whatever. I sense a certain disbelief at my statements on this matter, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that I take it very seriously. I cross-examine my colleagues about why they have done things in a particular way and I would not defend them if I thought that they had treated the House with disrespect. It is not my job to preside over Ministers not taking this House seriously.

Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) about the placing of documents relating to the Prime Minister’s “preventing violent extremism” programme in the Library, the Leader of the House should know that the Prime Minister made a commitment to put the relevant documents in the Library as long ago as 14 November, and on 21 November the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government wrote to me saying that they would be put in the Library “shortly”. However, the Secretary of State’s office has now told my office that there is no timetable for their delivery. Although the programme is important and worth while, Members will rightly wish to scrutinise the details of where the money is going. Will the Leader of the House please ensure that the problem is cleared up as a matter of urgency?

The hon. Gentleman can ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government about that next Tuesday, but he has made a serious point. I will look into it, and ensure that the Secretary of State writes to him and to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) before next Tuesday.

Notwithstanding the debate on the armed forces that will take place later today, may we have a separate urgent debate on the funding of the excellent armed forces charity Combat Stress? Given that an increasing number of armed forces personnel are suffering from post-traumatic stress and post-traumatic stress disorder, are the Government confident that the current level of funding is adequate for the needs that it must serve?

I will bring the hon. Gentleman’s question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, but he has raised two issues: the amount that is spent on defence, and how it is allocated. It is of the highest priority that those who put their lives on the line should have the best possible support service, a point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Anne Moffat). As the hon. Gentleman suggested, he will be able to raise that later today in the armed forces debate. As for the overall amount spent on defence, we spend more in real terms than any other country in the world except the United States. We have a very good record in that respect.

It really is not good enough for the Leader of the House to tell Members to make suggestions for topical debates. Does she not think it might be noticed that every time the Prime Minister makes an announcement about something on a Monday, it miraculously becomes the subject of a topical debate on the following Thursday? During the debate on apprenticeships, the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), said that

“the debate is topical given that the Prime Minister has made announcements on apprenticeships in the past few days.”—[Official Report, 29 November 2007; Vol. 470, c. 468.]

Will the Leader of the House guarantee that from next week onwards, she will stop this farce of arranging a topical debate on whatever the Prime Minister mentions on a Monday?

I think that if the Prime Minister has made a statement on something that is of great concern and importance to the country and is being debated outside the House of Commons, the fact that he has taken an initiative on it should not bar it from being the subject of debate in the House. There is no scientific or correct way of choosing subjects for topical debates, which is why it is right for us to review the issue in the spring.

May we have a statement from the Prime Minister next week on who would control the Government and our nuclear deterrent if the Prime Minister were indisposed because of an accident, illness or terrorist activity? Would it be the Leader of the House, the Cabinet Secretary, the defence chiefs, or perhaps David Beckham?

May we have a debate in Government time entitled “Ludicrous application of EU regulations”? It would allow us to highlight the fact that over the past five years some £22 million has been given to former United Kingdom residents living in other European countries in the form of the winter fuel allowance, over £11 million of which has gone to former UK residents living in Spain. As pensioners struggle to pay their winter fuel bills in this country, is it not an outrage that so much public money is being spent on winter fuel allowances for people living in far warmer climes?

My hon. Friend the Minister for Energy tells me that there is some doubt about whether that is actually true.

The hon. Gentleman is holding up the Order Paper rather than the Daily Mail. I will look into the matter, and write to him.