Skip to main content

Business of the House

Volume 478: debated on Thursday 3 July 2008

The business next week will be as follows:

Monday 7 July—Estimates [3rd allotted day]. There will be a debate on ticketing and concessionary travel on public transport, followed by a debate on science budget allocations. Details will be given in the Official Report.

At 10 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Tuesday 8 July—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill, followed by consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Bill.

Wednesday 9 July—Opposition day [unallotted day] [first part]. There will be a debate on the cost of living on a motion in the name of the Democratic Unionist party, followed by motion to approve the draft Council Tax Limitation (Maximum Amounts) (England) Order 2008, followed by all stages of the Statute Law (Repeals) Bill [Lords].

Thursday 10 July—Remaining stages of the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill [Lords].

The provisional business for the week commencing 14 July will include:

Monday 14 July—Remaining stages of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 15 July—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill, followed by motion to approve the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) (No.2) Order 2008.

Wednesday 16 July—Opposition day [18th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced, followed if necessary by consideration of Lords amendments

Thursday 17 July—The House will be asked to approve resolutions relating to the Intelligence and Security Committee, followed by a general debate on the Intelligence and Security Committee Annual Report 2007-08.

The information is as follows:

Ticketing and Concessionary Travel on Public Transport (Fifth Report from the Transport Committee, HC 84); and Science Budget Allocations (Fourth report from the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, HC 215).

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the forthcoming business. This week, the Home Affairs Committee took evidence from Cherie Blair on crime on our streets. I am sure that the Prime Minister will have welcomed her intervention on the issue. In her evidence, she called for a more highly visible police presence on our streets. Today, a report from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has said that front-line police sergeants spend half their day on paperwork, rather than on the beat. Indeed, one officer has said:

“Click, click, tap, tap best describes my job; mainly recording performance figures”.

When can we have a debate in Government time on policing and bureaucracy?

A report this week heavily criticised the Government’s 24-hour licensing laws, saying that alcohol-related incidents have sharply increased. Indeed, one senior police chief constable has said that gang life is replacing family life and that in the last year the number of children admitted to hospital with stab wounds has doubled, so can we have a debate in Government time on mending our broken society?

This week, it was revealed that the then Chancellor, now Prime Minister, was told in 2003 of security flaws in the Government’s handling of child benefit records. An internal report said that

“fraudulent… activity was not being detected”,

that civil servants could

“do anything without being detected”,

and that “the risks were serious”. Four years later, those risks became real when the Government lost the personal details of 25 million people, so will the Chancellor make a statement to the House explaining why the Prime Minister, despite being told of these problems, did nothing?

This week’s Darzi review on the NHS was particularly flattering to my hon. Friends in the shadow Health team, as they appear to have written many of the proposals. Patient choice, for example, was announced by the Conservatives in September 2007; budgets linked to quality of care was announced by the Conservatives in June 2007; and the NHS constitution was announced by the Conservatives a year ago. Labour has clearly run out of its own ideas and has to resort to using ours, so may we have a debate on original thinking in government?

May we also have a debate on communication by political parties? I would like to congratulate the right hon. and learned Lady on having recently appeared on the front page of the Henley Standard. I agree with her that Labour did not come fifth in the Henley by-election because she launched the Equality Bill on polling day, as there are many other reasons why people do not want to vote for this Government at the moment. A debate on communication, however, would allow us to discuss the tactics used by the Liberal Democrats in the Henley by-election. The worst example of their negative campaigning and cynical approach was a leaflet that led to the following headline in the Thame Gazette: “‘Don’t use us as a pawn’, school tells Lib Dems”. At a time when trust in politicians is so low, does the right hon. and learned Lady agree that such campaigning methods are irresponsible and that the Liberal Democrat party should be ashamed of itself?

Order. I let the right hon. Lady finish, but let me say that I would not expect a response to the tactic of using the business announced today as a means of attacking a political party in this way. The comments have been put on the record, but I would not expect the Leader of the House to respond to them.

The right hon. Lady raised the question of crime, particularly youth crime, and I would like to take the opportunity this morning to offer my condolences to the families of two people in the London borough of Southwark who lost their lives through violent knife crime in my constituency over the last four days. I pay tribute to the local police in Southwark under the leadership of Commander Malcolm Tillyer, and to all the police in our cities for their work in trying to tackle the menace of knife crime. They are working as part of a team with the Government, and we will shortly produce our youth crime action plan, which will be put before the House by the Home Secretary. The policing Green Paper will follow shortly. I remind the right hon. Lady that we are only too well aware that, although violent crime has fallen by 30 per cent. over the past 10 years, there remains the particular problem of young people carrying knives. The age at which people are carrying knives and becoming victims of knife crime is falling. That is a worrying trend which we are working on tackling.

The right hon. Lady asked about the security of data. We all want data to be gathered accurately, shared in the interests of good public services and to work as proof against fraud. She will know that the Poynter review outcome has been reported and is now being acted on.

The right hon. Lady also mentioned the Darzi review, which was the subject of a statement on Monday in this House and the other place—on the 60th anniversary of the NHS. Our view, set out on Monday, is that the Darzi review brought forward by the Secretary of State for Health is the next stage in building on and then improving the quality of care in the NHS, so that we can move on from having had to rescue the NHS when it was on its knees. The big question when we came into government was whether we would have an NHS in the future—would it even survive? Now, the question is how we improve the quality of care in the NHS. If the Opposition have joined us in that approach, we welcome them.

Identity fraud costs the UK £1.7 billion every year and I am its latest victim. Last month, in a card skimming scam, £3,500 was taken from my bank account and subsequently reinstated with a note on the statement, “Smile—reimbursement”, as if I had something to be happy about. When I contacted the bank, it refused to tell me about the progress of the fraud investigation—the shutters came down. This is a huge problem that is touching thousands of people every day, and we need an urgent debate on this issue of great concern.

I take my hon. Friend’s comments as a suggestion for a topical debate. We all want the convenience of credit card transactions, but we must ensure that we work with banks and through the Serious Fraud Office and the police, as well as with Departments such as the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, to bring it all together. Fraud is not a victimless crime and we need to work together.

The Leader of the House has announced that we will have a full day to debate the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Bill, which is an urgent measure that has widespread general support throughout the House. Can we ensure that before we break for the summer recess we have all the time we need for the Bill to pass between both Houses? It would be far better to get agreement in a conciliatory way on the important balance between liberty and victims’ rights, rather than force a measure up and down the corridors of this building. I hope she agrees to give us the time that we need next week and thereafter.

In that context, may I thank the Leader of the House for what she said in reflecting the question asked by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) about young people and crime? The House is getting increasingly worried—not only were two adults in our borough of Southwark stabbed to death, but last week in north London, a young man, Ben Kinsella, was stabbed, and in New Cross in the past few days, two people have been found brutally stabbed—that it is beginning to feel as if there is a real evil in our society. Although the numbers are not enormous, they are horrifying and each incident is an absolute tragedy.

We had a debate on knife crime, which was welcome, but before we break for the summer can we have another debate on responsibility towards and of young people? I include in that the opportunity to debate the fact that high street banks are offering Visa cards to 11-year-olds, which must be scandalous and must not add to anybody’s parental sense of being able to control their young people.

I have just two other requests to make. This week, we have rightly been celebrating the 60th anniversary of the NHS, which we all rejoice in. We had a big statement on the Darzi report this week. Before we break for the summer, can we have a debate on NHS accountability to the public—not what the service is, but how people can influence what it is locally?

Can we also have a debate on the linked great public service of which we are about to celebrate the anniversary? Next month is the anniversary of the passing into law of the Old Age Pensions Act 1908. This week, Southwark pensioners came here to start their celebrations, and there will be other events because the campaign began in Southwark. Can we have a debate on what has gone wrong with our society, when pensioners still have to apply for a top-up to make up a minimum income and people are given golden farewells from the Financial Services Authority of £600,000 and more yet they presided over a completely incompetent job of managing Northern Rock?

The hon. Gentleman says that that is the nature of capitalism, but we have a Labour Government who are presiding over pensioners underpaid and people hugely overpaid.

Finally, although it is right that we are to debate Zimbabwe today, I have asked several times for a debate on relations between the United Kingdom and China. May we have such a debate before the end of term and before the Olympic Games?

The hon. Gentleman asked about the process for the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Bill. I can tell him and the House that we have no intention of forcing the Bill through. It simply constitutes a recognition that we need to react to a court judgment that would have had the effect of allowing offenders out on appeal and requiring the Crown prosecution services, having reviewed cases in the pipeline, to drop them because the anonymity of witnesses could not have been protected when the cases came to trial.

My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor has been discussing the issues and giving full briefings to Members in all parts of the House. Any Member who wants a briefing from him or his ministerial team should let him know; he would be happy to provide it before next week’s debate. The Bill will be published today, so Members will be able to see it. My right hon. Friend has also been having extensive discussions with peers in all parties, and with Cross Benchers. There is a great deal of expertise and interest in the matter in the House of Lords. The idea is to secure as much agreement as possible, along with recognition that we need to act quickly because of the cases that are in the pipeline.

One of the fail-safes is the undertaking given by the ministerial team that the Bill is expected to last for a year at the most. It will either fold into the victims and witnesses Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech, or contain a sunset clause. We want to get it as right as we possibly can, but that fail-safe is there. Members are encouraged to talk to the ministerial team.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned youth crime. I send my condolences to the bereaved family of Ben Kinsella, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we all feel a sense of shock and horror after discovering that the deaths that we thought had resulted from a fire in New Cross now appear to have resulted from stabbings. Each of those deaths is a great tragedy, and each, as the hon. Gentleman said, instils a sense of fear and dismay that we must work together to tackle.

In mentioning the high street banks and the Visa cards, the hon. Gentleman put his finger on the fact that this is not just a question for the police. All agencies, local authorities and organisations in the voluntary and the private sector must work together to deal with it. We are drawing up a youth crime action plan and a policing Green Paper, but I shall ensure that the House has the opportunity that it clearly wants to focus on these issues.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the accountability of the national health service to the public. There is to be an Adjournment debate on health today, and no doubt there will be further discussion during consultation on the NHS constitution. The draft consultation document was launched on Monday.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to pensioners. There are two issues at stake—pensioners’ income levels and standards of living. I work closely with the Southwark pensioners action group, of which he and I are patrons and supporters. He should bear in mind that, of all the groups who are better off since we came to Government, pensioners—especially women pensioners—have benefited most, but we are not complacent and we want to do more.

I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman said about pay at the top. We must show responsibility over pay, not only in the public sector but in the private sector, and it must be connected to performance. High pay must be connected to good performance, not bad performance.

When can we have a debate on support for carers and the carer’s allowance? Although the increase in the earnings threshold to £95 was welcome, it remains the case that for every £1 increase above the threshold carers lose the whole allowance. That means that they can end up more than £40 a week worse off. They also lose the allowance when they retire, although they have to continue their caring role. Surely it is not beyond the wit of Government to come up with a more sensible system to ensure that carers continue to be supported when their circumstances change.

In raising the question of financial support for those who do the important work of caring for older and disabled relatives, my hon. Friend puts the spotlight on the element of that support that remains unsatisfactory. It is being kept under review by the Department for Work and Pensions and, in particular, by the Carers Commission. We want people who are caring for family members not to suffer financially as a result, and not to have to give up their jobs because they are worse off if they stay at work.

We are proceeding with a range of activities following consultation on the carers review. The carer’s allowance is being specifically reviewed, and I shall bring my hon. Friend’s comments to the attention of those who are conducting the review.

The Leader of the House will have noted the grave concern about the future of Post Office card accounts during topical questions today, and will be aware of it from experience in her constituency. It is important for the House to have a chance to express its view in a proper debate before a final decision is made. I appreciate that it may well not happen next week, but will the right hon. and learned Lady guarantee that before the decision is made we have a full debate on the Floor of the House?

The House has taken the opportunity to discuss post offices on many occasions, not least on Opposition days, during topical questions and in numerous Adjournment debates.

The right hon. Gentleman raised the important question of the contract for the Post Office card accounts. As I explained during last week’s business questions, a procurement process is under way and it would not be right for me, as a Minister, to comment on it. All I can do is report to the right hon. Gentleman, as I did last week, that the Post Office says it is making a vigorous bid for the contract. I do not think that a debate in the House would necessarily facilitate the process of awarding that contract; I think that everyone concerned is well aware of Members’ views.

The BBC is launching a streaming service whereby BBC 1 will be available on the internet. Although the technological advance is entirely welcome, does the Leader of the House agree that there is a fear in the internet community that institutions and individuals with internet access but no television sets will suddenly be forced to buy television licences even though they have no interest in watching television? Will she draw the matter to the attention of ministerial colleagues, so that either we can have a debate or a clear statement can be made by the BBC or the Department for Culture, Media and Sport?

I think that through his question my hon. Friend has shown himself to a member of the internet community. I know of his long-standing interest in the internet. He has raised an important point about what might be an unintended consequence, and I shall bring it to the attention of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. I shall also ask the Department to write to him, and to place a copy of the letter in the House of Commons Library.

May we have a debate on the economy? The Leader of the House will recall that we used to have regular debates on the subject in Government time, one of which used to take place in July. However, they have died away. We had no debate on the Chancellor’s pre-Budget report last November, for instance. Given the widespread concern about the direction and performance of the United Kingdom economy, is it not time that we revived the tradition of debating it in Government time?

As the House will know, we have debated economic issues during the passage of the Finance Bill, but I am aware that that is not the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making. I am also aware of the concern that although days of debate routinely follow the Budget, no such days of debate follow the innovation of the pre-Budget report.

Bearing in mind that we have provided a day’s debate for the draft legislative programme but have not reduced the number of days of debate that follow the Queen's Speech, we are considering whether it might be possible to find time to debate the pre-Budget report by adjusting the number of days available for debating the Queen's Speech. We need to discuss the issue through the usual channels and with the shadow Leader of the House and other Members, and I shall be happy to do that. If we are to add extra days of debate on the economy, we shall have to take them away from somewhere else. We therefore need to discuss the way in which we order our priorities, and I am happy to share that discussion with Members.

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that this June was the first Gypsy Roma Traveller history month, which was supported by the Government and which had the aim of educating the public about the long history of Gypsies and Travellers in this country. Is she aware of the success of that month? I attended several events, which were very lively and full of people—the public, Gypsies and Travellers together. Will she arrange a debate to consider that history month’s effectiveness in reducing prejudice?

The Government have been pleased to support that history month, and I thank my hon. Friend for telling us about the success of the events in her constituency and more widely in Wales. I will draw those matters to the attention of the Secretary of State for Wales.

Will the Leader of the House make parliamentary time available to discuss the proposal to establish a national bioethics commission? Many Members had hoped that we would be able to raise that issue during the discussions on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill a week on Monday, but it seems that the Bill is too tightly drawn for us to be able to force a discussion or amend it in that way. The UK is unique in western Europe in not having such a standing committee, and it would help us as legislators to have independent advice from an expert committee that looks at these issues in the round.

Responsibility for the important question of bioethics crosses the Select Committees that deal with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Department of Health. We are keeping the matter under review. We must have a proper focus in the House for the important scrutiny and consideration of bioethics, and I know that a number of Members have raised the question of how we can ensure that. I do not have anything specific to announce to the hon. Lady on this, but I will take into account that it is an issue of concern to her and let her know if there is any progress.

I was recently contacted by a constituent who wanted to get a copy of her birth certificate online. She visited a website called which she assumed was a Government website. It was not, however; it was a scam, where official information that people can get hold of fairly cheaply from Government websites is resold at a much increased price. Will my right hon. and learned Friend investigate, and hopefully close down, that operation, and may we also investigate more generally how such scams involving Government information work? I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) in calling for a debate on these issues, to see what progress we can make in tackling this type of scam and attempt to rip off consumers.

Once again, my hon. Friend has reminded us that fraud is not a victimless crime and people lose out as a result of it. I will draw his point to the attention of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and I will ensure that the Home Office establishes that the Serious Fraud Office and local police know about this and are able to take action swiftly, if it has not already been taken.

The right hon. and learned Lady has announced the business for Tuesday, which includes consideration of the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Bill and the allocation of time motion. Does she understand that I do not belong to the cosy consensus? I am extremely worried about this matter. It is quite wrong that the Bill has not yet been published, and that it will pass through all its parliamentary stages on Tuesday. Does she not recognise that that is a case of a Bill being pushed through the House? That is wrong in principle. The public will not have an opportunity to make representations, and we will find it very difficult to amend the Bill. Surely this is government by decree and legislation by officials, not by parliamentary government?

I do not think any Member of this House is under the impression that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is anything to do with anything cosy at all, and he is often nothing to do with anything to do with consensus either. I said in my initial remarks that all Members who have an interest in this—not just those involved in the usual channels—should contact the Ministry of Justice. I will tell the Secretary of State for Justice that the right hon. and learned Gentleman—who is extremely learned in matters of law and knowledgeable about these issues, and who has no doubt read and understood the judgment—would like to talk to him about how the Bill’s proposals will work. I understand that the Bill has just been published, so the right hon. and learned Gentleman will have a chance to look at it. However, let me remind him and other Members that this situation is not of our choosing. It is never a good thing to have to take decisions that affect the criminal justice system in a hurry. We are doing this expeditiously because of the court decision; otherwise, certain prisoners might be allowed to be released on appeal, or prosecutors reviewing cases might be required to drop those cases and it will not be possible to bring offenders who have committed crimes to justice—crimes will go unpunished and victims will be left in the lurch.

During the debates on the Lisbon treaty, I warned the House that the European Commission had a clandestine plan that would undermine the clinical priorities of the NHS by promoting what has become known as health tourism. I also predicted that the plan would not see the light of day until after the House had ratified the treaty, and so it proved. However, even I was surprised that it decided to announce that on the 60th anniversary of the NHS. May we now have a topical debate on the unelected Commission’s meddling in political affairs in this country and in NHS matters?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The Government remain committed to ensuring that where UK patients choose to travel abroad for care, the NHS retains the ability to decide what care it will fund. We have to make sure that the NHS makes the decisions, rather than their simply being made by people who have enough money to go abroad doing so to get treatment that otherwise would not be acceptable on the NHS. The current proposal is an initial text. It will be subject to change during future negotiations at EU level. The UK will be an important player in those negotiations, and we will work to ensure that the right legislative framework is developed. I will bring my hon. Friend’s comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

With reference to this afternoon’s business, how can the Government set up an independent review body on Members’ pay and then totally fail to back its recommendations?

If the hon. Gentleman attends the debate this afternoon, he will hear me explaining to the House why we have tabled a resolution setting out the Government position, part of which is the same as Sir John Baker’s proposals, but part of which is different.

May we have a debate on the Law Lords’ decision to deny victims of pleural plaques the appropriate compensation? My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that we are rapidly approaching the first anniversary of that decision, and despite assurances from the Justice Secretary and other senior Ministers, there is no tangible evidence that progress is being made. My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that this is a disease that affects white, working-class, middle-aged men and women. The Justice Secretary must be reminded that this needs to be given some priority, in order to make sure that they get the compensation they are entitled to.

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this matter to the attention of the House. Those who during the course of their working life—working hard—contract a horrible and devastating disease deserve, at the very least, the appropriate compensation. He has drawn to the House’s attention how long ago the Law Lords’ decision was handed down. He will know that the Government have undertaken to consult on how we should respond to the Law Lords’ decision, but I very much take on board his point that he wants us to get on with it, and I will make sure that ministerial colleagues in the relevant Departments understand that message loud and clear.

May we find time to debate early-day motion 1930?

[That this House expresses concern at reports of the closure of churches and the detention of Christians in Algeria; expresses particular concern at the case of Hanina Konider, a 37 year old Algerian woman facing prosecution as a result of being in possession of copies of the Bible; and urges the Government to raise this case and other cases of persecution of Christians in Algeria in the course of the discussions on the proposed Union for the Mediterranean due to commence in Paris on 13th July.]

This early-day motion has been signed by 58 Members. On 13 July there is to be a meeting in Paris to discuss the proposed EU union of the Mediterranean. Will the Leader of the House specifically request the UK representation at that meeting to raise the question of the persecution of Christians in Algeria and the case of this unfortunate woman, and also to promote the case for freedom of religion generally in Mediterranean countries? Surely we do not want to be in any sort of union where it is an offence to possess a copy of the Bible.

The hon. Gentleman has made forcefully the point that is attracting support from Members in all parts of the House, in the form of his early-day motion 1930. There is no opportunity for Foreign Office questions before the House rises for the summer, so I will make sure that this issue is brought to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Foreign Office. I will ask them to write to him explaining about the forthcoming international meetings, at which they will find the opportunity to raise this issue.

The successes of the 60th anniversary of the NHS at the weekend have rather overshadowed the first anniversary, on 1 July, of the end of second-hand smoke in enclosed public places and workplaces in England. Some 400,000 people have quit, there is 80 per cent. public support for the measure, and 40 per cent. of premises are recording an increase in business. As the chair of the all-party group on smoking and health, may I ask for a debate on tobacco control, perhaps based on my own early-day motion 1835?

[That this House welcomes the publication of the Department of Health's consultation document on the future of tobacco control; believes that there is an urgent need for action to ensure that a new generation of young people do not become smokers; and calls for legislation to be included in the 2008 Queen's Speech to end all displays of tobacco products at the point of sale, to end the sale of tobacco products from vending machines and to require all tobacco products in the UK to be sold in plain packaging.]

We should review the various measures proposed in the early-day motion in the run-up to the Queen’s Speech, which, as we know, will take place in exactly five months’ time.

I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend has raised the issue of the effect on public health of ending smoking in public places. We need to make further progress on this important public health issue. This is definitely a job for the nanny state.

The Leader of the House has done a great service to Members’ personal security by tabling the motion that will be debated later today on the non-disclosure of private home addresses. May I urge her to resist strongly any amendment that seeks to make an exception for Members’ home addresses in their constituencies, just on the basis that these occasionally have to be published locally? Returning to wider business, may I also request a statement from a Home Office Minister about the strange case of the suspected terrorist who went on the run last week and who was believed to have been involved in a major suicide plot, and yet whose identity could not be disclosed while he was on the run, for legal reasons? Some of us find it very strange that dangerous people could be on the run without our having a chance of catching them, because no one would know who they were or what they looked like.

At first sight, the case of the person who had gone on the run but could not be named does sound a bit baffling, so I will ask a Home Office Minister to write to the hon. Gentleman, and to see whether the matter is not too secret for some light to be shed on it.

The hon. Gentleman’s first point brings to the House’s attention the J. Lewis list. This is not the John Lewis list but the list of Members throughout the House who have signed his early-day motion. We have to base this issue on the security advice given to this House, which says that we should not publish our addresses, travel patterns or any information that could lead to Members being insecure and therefore unable to speak freely in this House. There will be an opportunity to debate this issue in the second of this afternoon’s debates. I know that the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) has tabled an amendment, but I hope that he will not press it to a vote. We simply have to act—[Interruption.] I can now reassure the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) that the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey has not been selected, so I will not have to do what I would have done, which is to resist it and make sure that we get this issue sorted out once and for all.

I know that the Leader of the House cares about the 9 million people in the UK who are deaf or hard of hearing, for whom lip-reading is an absolutely essential life skill. Could we have a debate on the Government’s guidance to local authorities on the cost of lip-reading classes? Uncaring councils such as Conservative-controlled Essex county council are pricing vulnerable groups out of lip-reading classes, and I am sure that no one in this House wants to see that practice.

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point, and this is one of the reasons why we have placed a specific duty on all organisations in the public sector, including local authorities, not to discriminate against people on grounds of disability, and to promote equality of opportunity and inclusion. The kind of services that he has described as being put at risk by Essex county council are exactly those that allow people to play a full part in the economy, by going out to work, and in the life of the community. I will raise this issue with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and see what it has to say about it.

May we have a debate next week on the ministerial code? If a Minister were to make a statement that the Government were not going to allow the building of housing on the green belt in eco-town proposals, but it later transpired that at the time of making that statement, the Minister was minded to allow commercial development to be built on the green belt in eco-town proposals, would the Leader of the House feel that the earlier statement was consistent with the principles of transparency and openness in the ministerial code?

We chose to have a topical debate on eco-towns because many Members in all parts of the House had asked for the topic to be eco-towns. All these issues were fully debated, and if a new one has arisen since then, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman write to the Minister for Housing, my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). If the issue involves the ministerial code, perhaps he should copy in the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

I raised concerns about the new NHS dental contract with the Health Secretary this time last year. In the light of the Health Committee’s damning report, which confirms that access has not been improved and that dentists have no financial incentive to carry out complicated treatments, will the Leader of the House make time for a specific debate on NHS dentistry under the reforms, given that in this afternoon’s Adjournment debate on the NHS in general, this issue may well be lost?

In fact, the Health Committee acknowledged that there has been a big increase in the number of dentists being trained, and the World Health Organisation says that child dental health in this country is the best in Europe. I know that that might seem a surprising statistic, but I offer it, for what it is worth. The fact that we intend to approach dental health by giving primary care trusts the power to commission dental services in their area was also welcomed. There has been a big investment in dental health in the last 10 years. More people than ever before have access to NHS dentistry, but we know that we have still not gone far enough. We intend to make further progress, and that will be part of the consultation under the NHS constitution.

Will the Leader of the House grant a debate in Government time on Iran? She will be aware of recent and worrying developments, including talk about the Israelis preparing to strike, yet there is also a real concern that not enough is being done to explore the peaceful alternatives to military action, including reports that the Iranians would be prepared for an international consortium to enrich uranium for civilian use on Iranian soil.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. The Foreign Secretary, who is here on the Front Bench with me because he is about to lead on the debate on Zimbabwe, tells me that there is 100 per cent. focus on diplomatic efforts in relation to Iran. No stone is being left unturned in that respect, and a package of measures to create a form of agreement to move forward has today been sent to the Iranians for their response.

With the recent expansion of the European Union, there is a growing number of EU-registered vehicles in the UK. The law is quite specific, stating that as long as those cars are taxed in their country of origin, they can be used in the UK for six months in any 12-month period. However, there does not seem to be any effective enforcement mechanism to ensure that that rule is adhered to. May we have a joint statement by the Secretary of State for Transport and the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing about what Her Majesty’s Government intend to do about that worrying situation?

I will draw the hon. Gentleman’s point to the attention of the relevant Ministers and ask them to write to him.

May I correct what I said in answer to the previous question? It was not today that the package was sent by the Government to Iran about what negotiations there could be and how we could move forward peacefully, purposefully and diplomatically; it was two weeks ago.


Criminal Evidence (witness Anonymity)

Mr. Secretary Straw, supported by the Prime Minister, Secretary Jacqui Smith, Secretary Des Browne, Mr. Secretary Woodward, the Solicitor-General and Maria Eagle, presented a Bill to make provision for the making of orders for securing the anonymity of witnesses in criminal proceedings: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday 7 July, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed. [Bill 134].

Topical Debate