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Commons Chamber

Volume 494: debated on Tuesday 23 June 2009

House of Commons

Tuesday 23 June 2009

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

business before questions

Broads Authority Bill

Lords amendments considered and agreed to.

Just before I call the opening question, I would like to ask hon. Members to keep their supplementaries to one question, and I would ask that Ministers’ replies are kept to a reasonable length. I am determined that we make good progress through the Order Paper.

Oral Answers to Questions

Health

The Secretary of State was asked—

Cancer Awareness in Men

1. What steps he plans to take to encourage men to seek medical assistance in the early stages of cancer. (281535)

If I may be permitted, I should like to congratulate you on your first Question Time, Mr. Speaker.

The theme of last week’s men’s health week, which we supported, was men’s access to health care services. We are working to improve awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer among men and women in England and to encourage those with symptoms to seek help earlier than they currently do so.

As the first Back Bencher to speak today, may I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Speaker? I wish you all the good luck and good will that you deserve. I hope that you will receive a lot more luck and good will than some of your predecessors have received.

I thank my hon. Friend for her answer. Will she provide some detail and explain what she proposes to do to fill in the gaps that mean that men seem not to go to the doctor or take advice? How can we try to get them to the doctor to ensure that treatable cancer is treated very quickly? Hopefully we will not then have the deaths that we have at the moment.

From evidence, the reasons why men are more likely to develop and, sadly, die from cancer are complex. We do know that the earlier a cancer is diagnosed, the higher the chance that it will be treated successfully. Men are notoriously bad at taking care of themselves and tend to put off seeing their GP, which risks later diagnosis and treatment. To mark men’s health week, and with the help of the Football Foundation, of which men constantly take notice, NHS Choices has highlighted five important male health issues: testicular cancer, skin cancer, mental well-being, prostate cancer and sexual dysfunction.

I was touched to receive the kind remarks of the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) and of the Minister. Perhaps I could just say—I hope that it is not presumptuous—that if any other Member was thinking of following suit, I ask him or her not to do so. We do want to make progress through the Order Paper.

Will the Minister indicate why the national health service is not always prepared to give people suffering from the early stages of cancer the most modern, up-to-date medication, even if it is the most costly? Why will it not prescribe the best drug to limit the advance of cancer?

Our advancement in the treatment of cancer is well recognised in our cancer plan, but we still have to educate men and women in this country so that they go to their doctor earlier and diagnosis can be made much quicker and more effectively. That is what we are doing through many different initiatives.

Does the Minister agree that although it is important that men go for early advice, it is also important that they get an early correct diagnosis? I am dealing with the case of a constituent who unfortunately died after being tret for 10 months in our local South Tyneside hospital for a urine infection. He was transferred to Sunderland, where he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and he died—a tragic case. Will the Minister agree to meet me so that we can discuss the issue further, to find out how we got to this position?

Yes. I am sorry about that particular tragedy of my hon. Friend’s constituent. The issue is so important, and I will be very happy to meet him.

Testicular, prostate and skin cancers all have a good outcome, provided that they are diagnosed early. The hon. Lady is quite right that people must see their doctors quickly and that men do not look after themselves, but what steps can she take over a sustained period, not just a week, to ensure that there is a change of attitude and that men go to the doctor early for diagnosis?

This is about education and schools getting through to young people about self-examination, which can still be done for some of the problems that affect men. Through the screening programme in the national awareness and early diagnosis initiative, we are bringing screening closer to those concerned in many imaginative ways. I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman looked on the NHS Choices website, he would see that.

Is my hon. Friend aware that my constituency has one of the highest death rates from prostate cancer in the country? Would she support primary care trusts in areas such as mine in understanding why the death rate is so high and, in particular, whether there is a high incidence or whether the problem is access to services and education?

I was unaware of the problem in my hon. Friend’s constituency, although I would be happy to look at it with her. The Government are committed to introducing screening for prostate cancer; indeed, a ministerial statement on prostate cancer screening was made on 19 March. We have made great advancements in prostate cancer, which is good news for the men of our country. We now need to get that out to GPs and look at their skills and training needs.

May I press the Minister further on prostate cancer? It is the second most prevalent cancer in men in the country, with 35,000 new cases diagnosed every year, yet there are still wide inequalities in care and outcomes. Could the Minister say a little more about what specific actions and improvements she is planning in order to provide greater information about prostate care, to widen access to treatments such as hormone therapy and brachytherapy, to encourage greater provision of clinical nurse specialists and to ensure the full implementation of national guidelines?

I am pleased that the House is giving this subject the importance that it deserves. The UK National Screening Committee is meeting today to discuss the new evidence and decide whether there is now enough information to make a decision on screening for prostate cancer. Should it decide that there is still insufficient information, it could commission further analysis. If that is the case, the committee will set a clear reporting timetable.

The Minister is quite right in the way that she is addressing the issue. Testicular and prostate cancer are the silent killers, especially prostate cancer. The problem is that men seem to be too embarrassed to go to the doctor’s, but what about doctors calling men in earlier and regularly doing a full screening, rather than waiting for symptoms to appear? The problem is that most people do not even know that they have the symptoms. A regular call-in would be a way round that.

I agree with my hon. Friend. Extending screening in different ways is important, which is why earlier I mentioned the good work that the Football Foundation does with us, because it helps in raising awareness where there tends to be more of a gathering of men.

Working Time Directive

2. What his most recent assessment is of the effects of the European working time directive on acute hospital services in the future. (281536)

Our aim is to ensure that, consistent with patient safety, the maximum number of services are supported to achieve compliance with the directive by 1 August. Two hundred and forty-seven trusts have now reported on 6,646 rotas. Following independent scrutiny, the proposed number of services for derogation is 200. I will shortly lay a statutory instrument before Parliament which will amend the working time regulations and set out the relevant information in detail.

What action will the Secretary of State take to deal with the significant concerns about the impact of the working time directive? Also, given the picture that he has painted of the action that he has taken, why has the British Medical Association suggested that there is insufficient preparation in some hospitals to deal with the fall in doctors’ working hours and that the funds needed for that are simply not getting to the front line?

We have taken great care to ensure that patient care is not disrupted by the implementation of the directive. That is precisely why the statutory instrument will set out those services which will need more time to prepare for the full adoption of the working time directive. However, the hon. Gentleman has to accept that the issue is fundamentally about patient care. Tired doctors make more mistakes—all the evidence points to that—and I do not think that we want to return to the past, when junior doctors worked up to 70 or 80 hours a week and made more mistakes than they might otherwise have made.

The figures suggest that in March 78 per cent. of NHS trusts were compliant with the European working time directive, but that that fell to 64 per cent. in April. Will the Secretary of State tell us what he expects the figure to be for May, which is due to be released soon, and are we really prepared for the significant reduction that we shall see from 1 August?

It is important to say that two thirds of junior doctors in the health service are now working to compliant rotas, and that all other NHS clinical and staff groups are already compliant with the directive. That means that a substantial part of the staff in the NHS are already compliant with the requirements of the directive. Of course we continue to keep a close watch on these matters, and we will take every possible step to ensure that there is no disruption to patient care after 1 August. The statutory instrument that I am bringing forward will provide extra flexibility for NHS management to ensure that the measures are introduced safely.

Two of the serious casualties of the shift system are continuity of care for patients and continuity of learning for junior doctors. How can these matters be specifically addressed within the 48-hour week?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. He will know that my predecessor asked NHS Medical Education England to look again at junior doctors’ training, to ensure that, as part of their new working environment, they would get a grounding in all the necessary subjects. A review is under way into junior doctors’ training, and I hope that I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance today that it will pick up precisely the point that he has raised.

Since the Government do not believe that statutorily limiting an employee’s average working week to 48 hours helps a worker’s health, what hourly limit, if any, do they believe to be appropriate?

Obviously, individuals retain the ability to opt out of the requirements of the directive, but as I said earlier, this issue is fundamentally about patient safety. It is also about helping individuals to balance their work and home lives, and about ensuring that, when they are at work, they perform to the very best of their ability. We believe that we can safely introduce the working time directive across the NHS and that, overall, the outcome will be staff working to the highest of their potential while ensuring that patient safety is the absolute priority for the NHS.

If I am not allowed to welcome you to your Chair, Mr. Speaker, may I at least welcome the Secretary of State back to the Department of Health, and the two Ministers to their posts?

The Secretary of State will be aware that one of the key findings of the Healthcare Commission in regard to Staffordshire hospital was the concern about low staff surgical rotas. The president of the Royal College of Surgeons has warned of the potentially “catastrophic” impact on hospitals of the new rules, saying that patients could be put at risk and that some could die. He also said that training could suffer, and that there was a risk of hospitals closing for emergencies. Given that we are now six weeks away from the implementation of the rules, will the Secretary of State agree to initiate a full risk assessment of their impact on patients, and to act in accordance with its findings?

I hope that when the hon. Gentleman sees the statutory instrument he will be reassured that it will provide the necessary flexibility in the specialties that it lists to ensure that the requirements can be safely introduced. I would also point him towards the evidence that early adopters of the directive, such as Homerton hospital, have shown a reduction in adverse incidents on the wards. Also, research by Warwick university medical school on trainees working in Coventry and Warwickshire university hospitals compared the number of errors made by junior doctors working no more than 48 hours with the number made by those working no more than 56 hours a week. It showed that fewer clinical errors were made by those working fewer hours. There is therefore good evidence to show that this move will improve patient safety in the national health service, although we of course take seriously the concerns that the hon. Gentleman has raised, and we will proceed cautiously at all times.

May I from the Opposition Benches welcome the Secretary of State to his new post and to his first questions?

Mr. Speaker, as you will know, and as I discovered through a recent freedom of information request, Buckinghamshire hospitals need to lose 1,360 hours of doctors’ training time to meet the requirements of the European working time directive. Will the Secretary of State confirm that patients will face cuts in care and that doctors will face worrying cuts in training because his Labour MEPs failed to oppose this European imposition?

I do not wish, at your first parliamentary questions, Mr. Speaker, to inject a note of political discord, but let us get some facts on the record. The last NHS work force census recorded that 34,910 consultants were working in the NHS—a 56 per cent. increase on 1998. It also showed that the overall number of doctors in training is 49,178—a 60 per cent. increase on 10 years ago. This Government have invested in putting more staff on the wards and they have not run junior doctors into the ground so that they were unable to do a proper job of caring for this country’s patients.

Influenza Pandemic

The cumulative total laboratory-confirmed UK cases as of 22 June is 2,905. Globally, the total number of cases confirmed by the World Health Organisation is 52,160. The Health Protection Agency, in conjunction with the NHS, is doing an excellent job, working to minimise the spread of the virus. An interim national pandemic flu service has been tested and could be mobilised within a week; primary care trusts have put in place a support structure for this service. Discussions with manufacturers about our purchase of vaccine are at an advanced stage.

With the real possibility of a national and full-scale pandemic of this flu, is the Secretary of State worried that his own national influenza helpline is not yet up and running? In those circumstances, does he think that NHS Direct will be able to cope?

The pandemic has been declared by the World Health Organisation, but it is important for the right hon. Gentleman to recognise, as does the World Health Organisation, that the UK is at the vanguard of countries around the world in its preparedness for dealing with the situation in which we find ourselves. I said in my reply that an interim flu line service is available and could be up and running within a week. We have also made preparations to ensure that the full national pandemic flu service will be available to be switched on in the autumn if it is needed. Our preparations are good and we remain in a position to ensure that patients are not put at risk. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman recognises the good progress made to date.

We are clearly in a strong position when it comes to world comparators in preparedness, but will my right hon. Friend assure the House that we are also in a strong position to learn lessons? Are preparations in place for proper mapping and modelling of the way in which the pandemic spreads throughout the UK, so that we can learn lessons that can be applied to the future?

Yes, we are. The Health Protection Agency has been doing a superb job in the early stages of this virus in monitoring, tracking and containing the spread of the disease at a local level. Much research is going on, based on information from GP practices and other sources, to monitor how the NHS is also coping with the extra pressure on the system. I can give my hon. Friend a full assurance that every possible step is being taken to handle the current situation and learn and provide a resource for future use.

Ten days ago, a letter from a retired immunologist, Dr. Eva Kasp, was published in The Times. It said:

“I totally disagree with the current practice of closing schools to slow down transmission. The symptoms of the disease are relatively mild and recovery quick… I believe that exposing the population at this time of year will benefit them by giving them the opportunity to acquire immunity against the virus by the time the second and third wave of the virus arrives in autumn and winter, as expected by the professionals quoted in your article.”

With what confidence does the Secretary of State believe that Dr. Kasp is wrong?

Obviously, I would refer Dr. Kasp to the chief medical officer. We are proceeding at all times on the basis of the best possible medical advice. The advice is that at this stage we should work to contain the spread of the virus at a local level. However, an important point is being made about the ability of the Health Protection Agency to continue working in that way. I was in the west midlands yesterday talking to staff from the agency and the extra flexibilities allowed to staff on the ground are helping give a more locally adjusted response within the national framework. Obviously, it is not possible to continue to test and to offer prophylaxis to all in the area affected and, accordingly, we are adjusting our response as conditions on the ground develop.

As health is devolved to the Scottish Parliament and to the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies, has my right hon. Friend met the appropriate Health Ministers in those bodies? Is there a consistent strategy throughout the UK?

The four Health Ministers have agreed a framework for handling the outbreak across the UK. I speak regularly to Nicola Sturgeon, Edwina Hart and Martin McGuinness and at all stages we are working together to make sure we adopt a consistent approach across the UK.

You know you are getting older when Speakers look young.

In March this year, the Secretary of State’s Department said that the national pandemic flu line would be available by April or May 2009—that is, by now. Now he says that it will not be ready until the autumn. Can he explain the delay?

These are important developments and this is a new service for the national health service. It is absolutely right that the service was tested in detail so that we knew that it could deal with the demand that it would be placed under. There have been examples in other areas where national telephone lines or internet services have not been able to cope at the point that they went live. That cannot be the case here; the service had to be tested rigorously and thoroughly, and it has been. If the hon. Gentleman was listening, he will have heard me say a moment ago that an interim service could be launched within a week. That would, if necessary, relieve pressure on primary care.

I am sorry but the Secretary of State has simply not answered the question. We are not talking about an interim service. In March the Department said that the service would be ready in April or May. Clearly the Department must have felt that it was close to implementation. Was it because the Treasury refused to sign the contract? Was it because BT was holding the Department to ransom on the NHS IT programme? Why precisely was there a delay of several months that had not been expected in March?

It is important for the hon. Gentleman to understand that, because of the outbreak, the full solution was put on hold while interim solutions were developed. He and I discussed this a week or so ago and I thought that he accepted that point. When the service goes live, it will have to be able to cope with demand. We have put in place a comprehensive plan to deal with the outbreak, of which the national pandemic flu service is one part. I can assure him that come the autumn it will be ready to go live and to deal with the outbreak to ensure that we take pressure off general practitioners around the country. I hope he would recognise that these preparations are good ones, consistent with securing good value and protecting the public.

Child Abuse

5. What steps his Department is taking to assist health professionals to reduce levels of child abuse in the long term. (281539)

We are working closely with NHS and professional leaders to ensure high-quality training and support for the children's health work force on safeguarding children. The Government's action plan in response to Lord Laming's recent report set out a range of measures, including action to strengthen training and support for professionals, action on health visiting, and action to support GPs.

My hon. Friend will know that the abusers of 20 years hence are being born today. Does she accept that if we can intervene now with those babies, children and young people to create better, more adept and more socially and emotionally capable people, we will be doing a tremendous amount to reduce abuse in the long term, as well as doing the necessary things that we have to do in cases such as that of baby P and others? Will she particularly commend the work of the family nurse partnership, sponsored by her Department, which is doing so much with those young families?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that he has always done in his constituency and the House on the care of children. We are expecting to roll out the family nurse partnership in even more areas. May I also congratulate children’s trusts such as the Nottingham city partnership, which play a central role in improving arrangements to safeguard children?

One of the key recommendations agreed to by the Government in Lord Laming’s recent report was the reintroduction of a universal system of health visiting, seeing all children and developing strong relationships with families. How many new health visitors will the Minister be putting in place to make up the shortfall, which is currently estimated to be about 2,000 throughout the country?

The hon. Lady is absolutely correct about the importance of health visiting: it is crucial for children and family development. We will expand the family nurse partnership programme in England to 70 test sites by 2011, and we also recently launched the action on health visiting programme, in which the Department is working very closely with the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association and other bodies in order to recruit staff, particularly to improve retention, and most importantly to try to bring us back up to the previous number of health visitors. We have lost some for a variety of reasons—in order to raise families, perhaps—and many might not be aware of the new flexible employment practice within the NHS.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (Prescription Charges)

6. What recent representations he has received on exempting people with rheumatoid arthritis from prescription charges. (281540)

I welcome the promise made by our Prime Minister at the Labour party conference in 2008 to abolish prescription charges for those suffering from long-term conditions. Will the Minister now outline a clear timetable for the abolition of these charges for those with chronic diseases, to help alleviate their problems?

I certainly agree that we need to reform the current arrangements for exemption from prescription charging in England to ensure that we have a fairer system. Professor Ian Gilmore is due to report in the autumn on how that may be done—it is quite a complex exercise—and we will then set a timetable for how we will be in a position to implement it.

Can the Minister tell the House how much his Department is spending on research? I have a number of constituents who suffer from this appalling ailment, and they tell me that, as well as exemption from prescription charges, their big priority is more research into this debilitating disease. Can the Minister tell the House the exact figures?

It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman to learn that, off the top of my head, I cannot tell him the exact figures for research, but I can tell him that a considerable amount of research is going on in this important area. We want to ensure that we get the drugs that will enable people to be assisted.

Smoking (Young People)

Government action has helped reduce smoking among 11 to 18-year-olds from 18 per cent. in 1998 to 11 per cent. in 2007. The Health Bill goes further still by prohibiting tobacco promotion through display and preventing under-age sales from vending machines. I look forward to publishing a new tobacco control strategy this year, setting out additional action.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Although the number of young people in Stockport who smoke has significantly decreased, there are still twice as many young smokers in those areas where people have a lower life expectancy than in those areas where people have a higher life expectancy. I recently met health workers and Brinnington residents who are piloting a Lose the Fags scheme, where local people who have stopped smoking are the role models to encourage others to quit. Does my hon. Friend agree that more encouragement needs to be given to such innovative schemes if we are to ensure that inequalities in life expectancy are tackled in my constituency and elsewhere?

My hon. Friend is a great champion for quitting smoking. I am delighted to hear of the success of the scheme, and I congratulate her constituents on taking this action. We want to support a culture of quitting. That is why we are spending an additional £2.5 million this year on 25 local authorities in circumstances precisely such as those she describes—those areas with high smoking rates where local programmes are most needed. That is also why the Government are seeking to take even further action through provisions in the Health Bill.

There is nothing to suggest that the ban on tobacco displays will reduce the number of young people taking up smoking; that ban is merely another triumph for the nanny state and for this Government, who are obsessed with headline-grabbing but pointless initiatives. Will the Minister reconsider this decision, given the negative impact that it will have on small shops, which are already struggling through the recession?

The simple answer is no, and the reason why is that removing tobacco displays is not going to close shops, no matter how much the hon. Gentleman and others in the House spread myths; I have just written to Members of Parliament to outline the reality. The other truth—I look forward to discussing this issue in the Health Bill Committee this afternoon —is that there is a great deal of evidence that tobacco displays not only encourage young people to take up smoking, but discourage people from quitting.

If the display of tobacco products encourages young people to take up smoking, what influence do the crowds of people whom we see on the streets outside pubs and clubs have on young people? Would it not be better for these smokers to be hidden away—inside the building in a controlled environment, rather than on the streets, where children can see them?

My hon. Friend is, as always, very inventive in making his point. As I said, we are looking ahead to a new tobacco control strategy. We have just finished the consultation and 100,000 responses were received. I look forward to seeing what further measures we may take.

Influenza Pandemic (Cheadle)

8. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of implementation of the pandemic influenza response strategy in Cheadle constituency. (281542)

To date, we are not aware of any specific issues in relation to swine flu infection in either Cheadle or Stockport as a whole. The strategic health authority is keeping the situation under review and we will respond to any outbreaks in line with the national response.

I am grateful for the Minister’s answer. The Secretary of State confirmed earlier that the national flu hotline is in fact running six months behind schedule and will not now be available until October. In the circumstances, can the Minister reassure my constituents about the interim arrangements, and say whether the system will be able to cope satisfactorily with the expected influx of new cases later this year?

I can indeed give that reassurance. In the north-west, there are just 43 confirmed cases to contend with. Of course, the discussion earlier was about a national flu line, but I can give the reassurance that, should it be needed, the interim flu line will be available for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents—and, indeed, for constituents anywhere else across the country. However, should there be a need for a local response, we are working carefully and closely with local health services.

Improving Young People's Health

9. What steps he is taking to encourage the NHS to co-operate with other public services to improve the health and well-being of children and young people. (281543)

“Healthy lives, brighter futures”, published in February 2009, sets out how we expect public services, including the NHS, to work together to improve the health and well-being of children and young people. This includes our action to strengthen arrangements for children’s trusts.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that much of the evidence given to the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee regarding the vulnerability of young children points to the fact that health personnel are the weakest partner, that GPs often do not turn up at meetings unless they are paid, and that GPs do not do their job in the fullest, most co-operative way as part of the partnership?

Obviously, we would take that evidence very seriously indeed. I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that, across the country, there are some excellent examples of NHS organisations and individuals working closely with joint teams on the protection of children and children’s health more generally, but I am sure that there is more that the NHS can do, at times, to be a better partner. I look forward to discussing that issue in more detail with him and his Committee.

Between 1 million and 3 million people in England and, obviously, thousands of children, do not get access to an NHS dentist. Would not one of the ways forward for improving child health be to reinstate inspections in schools, as our party has agreed to do, rather than ignoring the suggestion made in the review that came out yesterday?

I certainly will not be ignoring the review that came out yesterday, which has laid out an important vision for NHS dentistry, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that improving children’s dental health is an important objective. I have always also favoured public health measures in this area, such as water fluoridation, and I am happy to reassert that today. However, I am also clear that we must work to make sure that every child can get access to an NHS dentist, and I would happily work with him on that objective.

Thalidomide

10. If he will bring forward proposals for a new compensation scheme for thalidomide victims in cases where the drug was prescribed on the NHS; and if he will make a statement. (281544)

Thalidomide victims have some compensation through a private settlement agreed by the Thalidomide Trust and Diageo plc. Government policy is not to make ex gratia payments to a patient whose health has been harmed by a drug, where the responsibility lies with a company.

The victims of thalidomide are now considerably older than they were when the initial scheme was established, and their needs are greater. Many are now unable to work, and the cost of acquiring the necessary equipment to support them is often prohibitive. Will the Minister look again at the funds that remain available for thalidomide victims, and will he have discussions with Treasury colleagues about the possibility of increasing that funding?

If the hon. Gentleman is talking about further compensation, I have already set out the policy position of the Government. If, however, he is talking about more tailored NHS payments, I am prepared to discuss that with those who represent thalidomide victims, who would perhaps be in a position to use some of the direct payment initiatives that we are considering in the Health Bill, which is currently before the House. That might provide us with some way of better serving those who are dealing with that condition.

Skunk Cannabis

11. What recent evaluation he has made of research into the effects on mental health of the use of skunk cannabis. (281545)

At present, we do not have enough research evidence to be clear about any extra risks posed to mental health resulting from skunk cannabis use. However, the cross-governmental drug strategy research group is identifying what further research is needed.

Some studies have shown that heavy users of skunk are much more liable to develop schizophrenia. In fact, the risk to them is 40 per cent. greater. How can the Government combat that, because there are serious long-term effects? In fact, the problem could be described as a mental health time bomb.

I am sympathetic to the points made. It is for that reason, and because of public concern and the kind of issues that have been raised, that despite the fact that what we know so far is that there is a probable but weak causal link, we have promoted the FRANK campaign, which has the slogan, “cannabis can mess with your mind”, and we will continue to do that. Of course, while it is true that cannabis use is declining, the use of more potent cannabis such as skunk is increasing, and we are aware of that. We will continue our research and continue providing messages and information to the public.

If the Minister is considering where to focus research on the harmful effects of drugs, would she please look at the impact of khat, which is a legal drug, but which causes real concern in the Somali community, where its use is widespread?

I understand that that is a matter of increasing concern, and I will be glad to look at it and get back to my hon. Friend.

Maternity Services

12. What his latest assessment is of the performance of maternity services in (a) Gravesham and (b) England. (281546)

In 2008, the Healthcare Commission published “Towards better births: A review of maternity services in England”, which assessed the quality, capability and efficiency of maternity services in England. We have always put safety and high-quality care for mothers and babies at the heart of our vision for maternity services, and nine out of 10 women are pleased with the care that they have received.

At various times, the Government have pledged that women will be able to choose where they give birth. Is the Minister confident that the Government will hit that target? If they have not done so yet, when will they be able to do it?

We are working towards that target. We have had an unprecedented rise in the birth rate, and we had a midwife recruitment problem. We have now reached 1,000 and are working towards the extra 4,000, along with the Royal College of Midwives. The situation varies around the country, but I repeat that the safety of mothers and babies is paramount.

Topical Questions

Yesterday, Professor Jimmy Steele published his independent review of NHS dental services. I have accepted the recommendations in principle and believe that the report sets out a clear vision for the future of dentistry that the profession can unite around. Next week, Lord Darzi will publish “High quality care for all: one year on”, which will set out the progress at both local and national level in terms of embedding quality at the heart of the NHS. In early July, we will publish a Green Paper setting out options to reform the care and support system.

Why has my right hon. Friend rejected Lord Archer’s recommendation that patients who have contracted the hepatitis C virus from contaminated blood should receive the same compensation as those who contracted HIV from contaminated blood, as in the Irish Republic and several other countries?

I deeply regret that patients have contracted serious infections as a result of NHS treatment 20 or more years ago. However, it is the different circumstances of patients that are reflected in the different financial arrangements. We will review the Skipton fund, which was set up for those infected with hepatitis C. In 2014, 10 years after its commencement, I cannot accept the comparison with Ireland, because the Irish blood transfusion service was found to be at fault, and that was not the case here.

T3. Several people from the Birmingham area who were among the earliest to be infected with swine flu outside Mexico were in fact infected on a plane, which is almost a mechanism for cross-infection. What reviews have the Government carried out on what should be done on planes, not necessarily for this virus, whose symptoms are not so severe, but for future more serious infections? (281562)

Obviously, we take advice at all times from the Government’s scientific advisory group, and I will seek advice from it on that point. It is looking at potential scenarios as this outbreak develops, and we keep all scenarios under consideration.

T2. A few hours ago, I faxed to the Department a letter that I had received from my primary care trust, telling me that there was likely to be a delay in the new Colne health centre in my constituency. Everyone is dismayed by this, as I am. What is happening to new-build projects in the NHS, given that its financial outlook is a bit pessimistic? (281561)

Health care will always be a priority for this Government, and it is of course the responsibility of PCTs to plan, develop and improve local health services. I understand that the East Lancashire PCT board will consider the issue in July this year.

T5. The Minister referred earlier to last year’s “Towards better births” report, which highlighted the issue of the lack of clean bathroom facilities available on maternity units, particularly for newborn babies. Only 16 per cent. of units had one bathroom per delivery room and less than half of women said that the toilets associated with those units were “very clean”. Precisely what do the Government intend to do about the results of that report? (281564)

We take the issue extremely seriously wherever there is that need. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware of the progress that we are making in relation to health-care-associated infections and general cleanliness overall. We need to continue to develop our work in modernising health care and facilities, eventually getting single-sex accommodation for health care across the board. In maternity, of course, that is much easier to deliver.

T4. Given that epidemiologists predict that swine flu might return next winter in a more virulent form, will my right hon. Friend undertake to consider the provision of isolation units around the country, particularly close to major centres where there is immigration, such as Heathrow? (281563)

It is vital that we take steps now to ensure that the NHS is able to cope with the extra demand that it will face over the coming months, and particularly over the coming winter period. Ian Dalton is leading work for the Department on this issue to ensure that the NHS is ready to cope. Obviously, the availability of isolation facilities and critical care facilities is important, but it is also important to say, for the avoidance of doubt, that for the vast majority of people this has been a mild condition from which they have been able to make a speedy recovery. In a small minority of cases—I stress that it is a small minority of cases—the symptoms have been more severe. Obviously, we will take advice from the scientific advisers as we know more about this particular disease.

T9. The Department’s “Give and Let Live” organ donation programme for schools was launched almost two years ago, inspired by the work of the Jeanette Crizzle Trust, based in the Kettering constituency. As of this time, only 3 per cent. of secondary schools have got involved in the programme. Will the Secretary of State or one of his Ministers produce an action plan to put a rocket behind the programme so that children can find out how they can donate tissue, blood and bone marrow to help those who need it? (281569)

We aim to see donor rates increase, so of course we will work very closely with the Department for Children, Schools and Families to achieve better outcomes, such as those noted by the hon. Gentleman.

T8. The Secretary of State responded to a question about the flu pandemic and the possibility of a rise in the incidence of flu in October and November. Surely he is aware that our concern will be for the small minority that he mentioned to have hospital beds in hospitals. What role does he see the local community hospital playing in providing those hospital beds? Would he or one of his Front-Bench team like to visit the community hospital in Tamworth to see whether it would be able to provide those beds? (281567)

I am a neighbour of the Tamworth constituency and, as my hon. Friend knows, some of my constituents use the Sir Robert Peel hospital in Tamworth. I am aware that there are some issues in relation to agreements between that hospital and adjoining hospitals, particularly Good Hope hospital, that are in play at the moment. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that and, if he wants me to, to go gently across the constituency border and visit Peel hospital.

T6. The Minister said that he will accept in principle the recommendations of the independent review of NHS dentistry, published yesterday. However, will he make a further firm commitment to implement the detail of the proposals put forward in that review, including reform of the system of payment so that income for dentists is determined by the number of NHS patients registered and the quality of care provided rather than simply by the number of treatments? (281565)

The hon. Gentleman summarises the report very well. Obviously, it seeks to build on the system of local commissioning put in place in 2006. As he rightly says, it places much of the emphasis on oral health and its promotion rather than on activity and on measuring and encouraging it. That is the important change that the document puts forward. Rather than mandate a single contract, we will pilot the best way of achieving that change across the country. We want to ensure that we work with the profession at all times, but a survey by Which? last week found that nine out of 10 people who sought an NHS dentist in recent times were able to find one. That shows that there is a better success story about NHS dentistry than is usually reported to the public.

Thank you for calling me, Mr. Speaker, and may I welcome you to your new position? With your permission, I should like to return to the subject of the health and welfare of children in our communities. A report was published today into the tragic death of Brandon Muir, a toddler in Dundee. I live in that city, and what the report says about the lack of communication between the NHS, the local social work department and Tayside police is appalling. Does the Minister agree that there has to be greater co-ordination between those organisations to make sure that our children are well looked after?

My hon. Friend raises the matter of that child’s death, which is, of course, an issue in Scotland. However, we are working hard to raise awareness among front-line staff in health, social care and all the other sectors with relevant responsibility. We must make it very clear that we are all working together to make sure that fewer, or no, such cases happen in future.

T7. Ministers may not have heard yet, but last Wednesday London’s King’s College hospital made the very welcome announcement that, following consultation about the future of its accident and emergency department buildings, it was going to ask the architects to redesign them so that there is “a designated space for mental health patients’ assessment and waiting.”That is a hugely welcome announcement. Will Ministers use the experience of the community in south London to make sure that all A and E departments in England have adequate facilities for receiving mental health patients and that— (281566)

Order. May I just say to the hon. Gentleman that topical questions are supposed to be very brief and pithy? The same can be said of answers.

Campaigners estimate that there is a growing shortfall—possibly as much as £200 million a year—in the money provided for people with complex needs in respect of learning difficulties. Will the question of how we are to fill that gap in the future be addressed in the forthcoming social care Green Paper? If not, when will it be addressed?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He has been a long-standing campaigner on these matters, and will know that our “Valuing People Now” report sets out our strategy for supporting people with learning disabilities. Indeed, we will publish a document setting out our plans for employing such people in the very near future. I can confirm that, when the care and support Green Paper is published in early July, it will set out an overall direction for high-quality and cost-effective services for people with learning disabilities, among others, to choose from. Moreover, it will show that the funding system is fair, sustainable and affordable for all.

In 1997, Tony Blair promised to end the scandal of people selling their homes to pay for their long-term care. Why have the Government taken so long to address that problem?

Unlike the Conservatives, who have said that they will put this matter in the “too difficult to do” box, the Government will be publishing our care and support Green Paper in a few weeks. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it will be radical, and that it will spell out what we will do in future to ensure that people get high-quality care, and that they have choice and control over that care. We will make sure that the system is fair, transparent, simple and affordable for all. Those things are matters of principle for us, but the Opposition, of course, oppose them.

I attended the opening today of the Demelza children’s hospice in my constituency. Will my hon. Friend the Minister join me in sending congratulations to everyone who brought about that development, and especially those of my constituents who have been raising funds and volunteering to make the hospice a success? Does he agree that it will make a significant contribution to the well-being of young people in south-east London in the future?

Many congratulations to my hon. Friend. Working with children is very testing for all health professionals and end-of-life care in a hospice is particularly challenging, so of course we congratulate all concerned.

My constituent, Mrs. Marsh, a young woman from Kendal, suffers from a rare form of cancer—a chordoma of the spine. The treatment that could cure her is proton therapy; it is not available in this country but is available overseas. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me, Mrs. Marsh and her consultant to look at ways in which the NHS can fund her treatment overseas?

There have been meetings at the Department of Health between me and other interested parties. Proton therapy is being looked at, and we hope in the very near future to be able to make a decision as to how we take things forward. That is what we are doing.

In considering the problem of skunk cannabis, will the Minister promise to disregard the hysterical, evidence-free hyperbole, an example of which we heard this afternoon, and heed instead the scientific, evidence-based advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs?

As I said earlier, we are looking forward to further research to establish the link between cannabis use, including skunk cannabis, and the effects on health, including mental health, and we will respond to it in the proper fashion.

European Council

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the European Council held in Brussels last Thursday and Friday, which I attended with the Foreign Secretary, and which focused on the intensive economic co-operation needed within Europe and across the world as we follow through the agreements made at the G20 summit and ensure the co-operation needed in economic and environmental policies.

The Council expressed its determination to continue playing a leading role at global level. It called on its international partners to implement fully the commitments made at the London G20 summit, in particular by providing additional resources to international financial institutions and accelerating the reform of the financial and regulatory framework.

Member states have already stated their readiness to provide fast temporary support of up to a total of €75 billion to encourage growth and jobs. The Council also concluded that member states stand ready to take their share of further financing needs agreed by the London summit.

For many months, the UK Government have rightly been at the forefront of proposals to strengthen international regulation. That is why we have taken forward Lord Turner’s report. Radical proposals for reform of regulation were also a key outcome of the G20 in London. With so much of Britain’s financial sector activities linked to Europe as well as to the rest of the world, and with cross-border investments between the UK and the rest of Europe alone amounting to more than £200 billion every year, Britain needs greater European as well as wider international cross-border supervision. So in line with the recommendations of the reports from Lord Turner and de Larosière, the Council agreed the principles on which a new international framework for the regulation and supervision of financial services in Europe would be delivered.

First, there will be better early warning of financial sector risks through the creation of a new European systemic risk board, which will complement the work of the International Monetary Fund and the Financial Stability Board, and will help to identify problems early and thus prevent future financial crises from developing. Secondly, as proposed by Lord Turner’s review, which was itself welcomed by most people in the House, there was agreement to develop a strengthened and more detailed set of European rules for the single market in financial services, with measures to raise the quality and consistency of supervision across Europe, ensure that common rules are enforced, and improve co-ordination between national supervisors; and measures for mediation between the supervisors of institutions with operations in more than one member state. Thirdly, there was a clear commitment from the Council that

“stresses that decisions taken by the European Supervisory Authorities should not impinge in any way on the fiscal responsibilities of Member States.”

The principles agreed at the Council provide the foundation for a new financial supervisory architecture with the aim of protecting our financial system from future risks and helping to ensure that the international regulatory failures of the past will not be repeated. The G20 also decided that countries should take similar actions on economic policies, to get through what is recognised by the Leader of the Opposition as a “recession all over Europe”.

While the Council acknowledged that the co-ordinated measures taken so far in support of the banking sector and the wider real economy

“have been successful in preventing financial meltdown and in beginning to restore the prospects for real growth,”

it also emphasised the

“imperative…to continue to develop…the measures required to respond to the crisis.”

While it is absolutely right that we maintain our commitment to medium-term fiscal sustainability, it is equally vital, as the Council reiterated, that we remain determined to

“do what is necessary to restore jobs and growth.”

Recognising the worldwide nature of the financial crisis and that about 1 billion people face poverty, malnutrition or hunger, the European Council also decided that countries should continue to pursue together the millennium development goals, and also co-operate further on the environment.

The Council agreed that

“the time has now come for the international community to make the necessary commitments needed to limit global warming to under 2 degrees”,

and that a coherent response to the challenges of both climate change and the economic and financial crisis would, by enabling the move to a low-carbon economy, offer new opportunities for jobs and growth.

The Council repeated its call for all parties to co-operate in reaching an ambitious agreement in Copenhagen later this year, and to accelerate the pace of negotiations at forthcoming high-level international meetings, including the G8 and the Major Economies Forum next month. The Council agreed that both developed and developing countries should contribute finance in the fight against climate change, and that such global burden sharing should be done strictly on the basis of two principles: the ability to pay and the scale of emissions.

When the Council met in December, we agreed that we would seek to provide the legal assurances that Ireland needed to move forward on the Lisbon treaty—that is, on taxation, defence, the right to life, education and the family. But we were equally clear in doing so that there could be no change or amendment to the treaty, only clarification of what it will and will not do. That is exactly the purpose of the guarantees that the Council has agreed for Ireland. To be absolutely clear,

“the Heads of State or Government have declared:

the Protocol will in no way alter the relationship between the EU and its Member States. The sole purpose of the Protocol will be to give full Treaty status to the clarifications set out in the Decision to meet the concerns of the Irish people. The Protocol will clarify but not change either the content or the application of the Treaty of Lisbon”,

and that

“its content is fully compatible with the Treaty of Lisbon and will not necessitate any re-ratification of that Treaty”.

These guarantees will be set out in a protocol only at the time of the next accession treaty. This will be specific to Irish concerns. Its status will be no different from our own protocols and will be subject to ratification in this House.

On Burma, the Council marked the 64th birthday of Aung San Suu Kyi by expressing its deep concern at her continued imprisonment as the Burmese regime still pursues its contemptible and absurd sham trial. The Council called for her “immediate unconditional release” and agreed that if this does not happen, Europe

“will respond with additional targeted measures”

against the Burmese regime. It is absolutely right that we stand ready to step up sanctions. We will also work with Asia to further increase international pressure. I have talked to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, and I hope he will be able to visit Burma soon.

On Iran, the Council

“stressed that the outcome of the Iranian elections should reflect the aspirations and choices of the people of Iran.”

The onus is on Iran to show the Iranian people that recent elections have been credible, and that the repression and curtailment of democratic rights that we have seen in the past few days will cease.

We, too, have an expectation of Iran—that it meets its obligations as a member of the international community. I hope that Iran will respond to our efforts to achieve a genuine dialogue. It is therefore with regret that I should inform the House that Iran yesterday took the unjustified step of expelling two British diplomats over allegations that are absolutely without foundation. In response to that action, we informed the Iranian ambassador earlier today that we would expel two Iranian diplomats from their embassy in London. I am disappointed that Iran has placed us in this position, but we will continue to seek good relations with Iran and to call for the regime to respect the human rights and democratic freedoms of the Iranian people.

The Council unanimously agreed that it intends to nominate José Manuel Barroso to lead the next European Commission. As we look forward to the next five years, so this Council has put in place some of the building blocks for the future of Europe. It is by co-operating on the basis of our interdependence that we achieve more. By engaging and working in partnership with Europe and globally, we take forward our commitments from the G20 in April. By putting Britain at the heart of Europe, not on the sidelines, with Europe’s single market worth over £10 trillion, we in Britain can responsibly deliver security, new jobs, prosperity and a strong future for all our people. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. There are some areas of agreement: we very much welcome what he says about climate change and December’s vital Copenhagen conference; we also agree with what he said about Burma; and we very much agree about the future of José Manuel Barroso. Let me put it like this: it is important that we work together to keep the socialists out, and I am always pleased to do that.

On Iran, while the decision on how the Iranian people are governed must be a matter for them, is it not important to reiterate that their yearning for freedom and democracy reflects a yearning for universal values that we should support? Iran’s expulsion of diplomats is clearly not acceptable, and the British Government were absolutely right to respond. Should not we be clear that this is a dispute not between Britain and Iran, but among different groups in Iran about democracy and the future of their country?

On the economy, the Prime Minister says that measures are being taken throughout Europe to get the economy going again, but will he confirm that seven months after we proposed a proper national loan guarantee scheme to get lending flowing—

He says “for goodness’ sake”, but it would have made a good lot of difference. If he concentrated on the figures instead of shouting from a sedentary position, he would know that the latest figures on Britain show the weakest lending to business for almost a decade.

The Prime Minister also says that measures are being taken to tackle unemployment. Will he confirm that Britain now has the highest youth unemployment in Europe?

The Prime Minister talked about agreement across Europe. In that case, does he agree with the Prime Minister of Sweden, who said this month,

“let’s be honest: if the crisis we face today was created by people borrowing too much, the solution cannot be for governments to act in the same way”?

Can the Prime Minister tell us why Britain is heading for the biggest budget deficit in the G20? Have we not now reached the stage at which the best way to restore confidence and get our economy back on track is to be honest about the measures that are needed to sort out the mess that the Prime Minister has made of the public finances? When is he going to make a start on that?

Next, on financial regulation, we have long pressed for counter-cyclical capital requirements that force banks to hold more capital when the economy is strong, but does the Prime Minister agree that there seems to be—I put it politely—some confusion about precisely what was agreed about financial regulation? Of course, we agree about the early warnings that he mentioned, but he is missing the key question. Before the summit, the Government argued—quite rightly, in our view—that national supervision must be pre-eminent. Does he recall telling the House in March that he did not want any new body to have “powers over national supervisors”? If so, why does the communiqué say that the decision-making powers of the European system of financial supervisors will be “binding”? And why did President Sarkozy say that the UK had performed a U-turn and that such institutions always end up doing more than is foreseen? Is that not why the City of London says that we now have a situation in which binding arbitration, dictated by Brussels, could overrule the UK’s Financial Services Authority? Will the Prime Minister answer that point when he gets to his feet?

Next, on Lisbon, will the Prime Minister tell us why Irish voters are being forced to give their views twice when the British people have not been asked for their views once? Will he explain why the protocols that go into the treaty will not be debated or put into place until the next countries join the EU? Is it not the case that the Government want to delay the process until after the election? Is that not because they do not want the embarrassment of having to vote yet again in this place to deny people the referendum that they originally promised?

The Prime Minister said very clearly in his statement—I hope that I was following it carefully—that the Irish guarantees make no change at all to the Lisbon treaty. I am sure that the Irish people will receive that statement with great interest. Perhaps the Prime Minister should go and campaign for a yes vote; it would probably be the best way of securing the result that many of us would like to see.

Less than a fortnight ago, the Prime Minister promised a new era of openness and democratic accountability, yet in the last week he has tried to sneak through a secret inquiry into Iraq, deny the British people a say on the European constitution and avoid a debate in Parliament on the new protocols that have been agreed in Brussels. If he really believes in openness and accountability, should he not start by holding a debate now on the protocols agreed in Brussels and by offering people the referendum on the constitution that he promised, and while he is at it, why not do a proper U-turn on the Iraq inquiry—right here, right now?

I am sorry to have to start by saying one thing: 3 million jobs are dependent on Europe, 60 per cent. of our exports go to Europe and 700,000 companies trade with Europe, yet not one pro-European word has been stated by the Leader of the Opposition.

I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has said on climate change; we both look forward to a Copenhagen agreement. I am glad that he also supports what we are saying on Burma. On the Iranian situation, we are both in agreement that we have to take action when our diplomats are expelled from Iran. But we do want good relations with the Iranian people, and we do want to remind Iran of the importance of human rights and respecting democracy.

As to the issues that the right hon. Gentleman raised about the European Council decisions on financial regulation, let me just say that a few months ago the Conservative party was telling us that we should be deregulating more. What we have had to do is work with other countries to build a regulatory system that can deal with the problem that exists when international institutions—banks and financial institutions—work in other countries.

Let me just tell the right hon. Gentleman that London depends on proper cross-border supervision. Four hundred European institutions operate in London, and we need a good regulatory system, in other countries as well as in our own, for financial supervision and the financial sector to work. He should be supporting the efforts that we are making to bring Europe and the rest of the world together to agree a common financial supervisory system.

I have to repeat to the right hon. Gentleman that what we agreed in Brussels was that there be shared and common rules; I believe that, the whole world over, we will get agreement on shared rules. We agreed that there be a system of proper audit; that means that what is happening in individual countries will have to be properly audited in future. We agreed a system of common supervision of financial institutions, but only in this sense: that each country’s individual financial services authority will be responsible for the individual institutions. Only when there is a dispute between the home and the host countries, or a dispute about the application of the general rulebook, will mediation take place within the European agency. That is the right way forward, because London is likely to benefit more from that, not less. The right hon. Gentleman should cast aside his habitual anti-Europeanism and support what is necessary in the interests of the financial services.

Let me also say to the right hon. Gentleman that I read out to the House exactly the undertakings that had been given by Ireland and given also as a decision of the European Council. They are very clear:

“the Protocol will in no way alter the relationship between the EU and its Member States. The sole purpose of the Protocol will be to give full Treaty status to the clarifications set out in the Decision to meet the concerns of the Irish people. The Protocol will clarify but not change either the content or the application of the Treaty of Lisbon.”

That is the right thing to do. The Irish were looking for clarifications about the impact of the treaty. They have received their clarifications, and that will be set out in a protocol. It will come to all Houses of Parliament and Assemblies in other countries when they have to confirm the next accession treaty. That is the right thing to do.

Instead of saying that somehow we have got it wrong, the right hon. Gentleman should know that we have done what is necessary, so that the Irish people are sure about the application of the treaty—in the same way as we got a protocol in Britain to ensure that the British people knew what the application of the treaty was. I repeat: more than a year ago, the constitutional concept was abandoned. That was the statement of the Brussels European Council.

The Leader of the Opposition failed to tell us about his party’s having joined a new European grouping only yesterday. It makes his party even more isolated and on the fringes of Europe. [Interruption.]

I know why Conservative Members do not want me to say this. While we are engaging in co-operation with the rest of Europe, the Leader of the Opposition is isolated and on the fringes, unable to support the level of economic intervention that we need. While we are taking action with other European countries against unemployment, his party opposes the action against unemployment that we are taking in Britain. He is isolated and on the fringes. We are working with other countries in Europe, but he cannot work with Germany, France or Italy, even when they have right-wing Governments. The Conservatives are isolated and on the fringes of the European Union.

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement, and I agree with what he said in light of the expulsion of the British diplomats from Iran. While we should of course monitor what is unfolding in Iran with due sensitivity, we should be utterly uncompromising in our view that hardliners in Iran should not seek to scapegoat either British diplomats or the media for problems entirely of their own making.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s saying that the Irish have received the reassurances that they sought on the impact of the Lisbon treaty. Does he agree that if the Lisbon treaty is finally ratified this autumn, Europe should then get on with tackling the problems that really matter to people—climate change, the economy and crime—and that any attempts by any future UK Government to reopen the terms of membership would be self-indulgent and self-defeating?

The summit was particularly important for setting out the framework for a European Union response to any future banking crisis, and I welcome the agreement. But does the Prime Minister not see—I have raised this with him before—that however strong the EU regulatory framework is in that area, unless the Government here act to disentangle the banking system, separating high-risk casino investment banking from the day-to-day business of high street savings and mortgages, our economy will continue to be vulnerable to a repeat of the banking crisis?

With recent reports suggesting that the impact of climate change may be even worse than we had feared, does the Prime Minister agree that the EU must be in the vanguard for an ambitious and comprehensive deal at the Copenhagen summit in December? Is he concerned, as I am, that the recent summit was light on detail on the crucial question of how much EU states will pay to assist adaptation to climate change in developing countries? It is those countries that will bear the brunt of the dangerous effects of climate change.

I am glad that the summit conclusions referred to the need for the EU to tackle cross-border crime, which I do not think the Prime Minister mentioned. Does he agree that it is essential that this country and our Government play their full role in measures such as the European arrest warrant and co-operation through Europol and Eurojust? Does he agree that rejecting those measures would be a betrayal of the British people, putting Eurosceptic dogma over the safety of British communities?

Finally, the summit text included declarations on Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is vital that there is adequate security in Afghanistan for the elections in August, and that Britain continues to play its role in Helmand province. In that context, will the Prime Minister confirm recent reports that he rejected the advice of his military commanders that there should be an increase in British troop numbers in Afghanistan? Can he not see that it would be the worst of all worlds to ask our troops to do their very difficult job in Afghanistan without committing enough resources for them to do that job properly?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks in support of the decisions of the European Council. I shall start where he ended, on Afghanistan. Let me make it absolutely clear that the number of troops in Afghanistan, as a result of decisions we made a few months ago, has risen over the course of this year from 8,100 to 9,000. That will be the case until after the Afghanistan elections take place over the summer and autumn months. There has been an increase, not a decrease, in the number of troops that we have set aside for the vital purpose of defending democracy in Afghanistan. I know the sacrifices that our British forces have made and the difficult terrain in which they operate, and I think the whole House will want to give them support in the magnificent efforts in which they are engaged to keep the peace in Afghanistan, bring stability to the region and ensure that democratic elections take place.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned law and order, and I want to remind him of one justice and home affairs issue. As part of the Lisbon treaty negotiation, we secured an extension of our existing opt-in to asylum and migration measures, but we remain ready to co-operate on issues to deal with crime, so that we can deal particularly with the problem of organised crime across Europe.

We are in agreement on the importance of climate change, and indeed of the new evidence that is now available to us about the seriousness of the problem. The challenge for us is to get an agreement internationally on two big issues, and hopefully we can make progress even before Copenhagen. The first is to get intermediate targets so that countries are bound not simply to long-term targets but to intermediate ones—2020, 2025 and so on. I believe that we are making progress, but a number of countries have still to make their announcements on what they are prepared to do. The second thing is financing and the energy efficiency measures that have to be taken in developing countries, which do not have the money to move from, say, coal or other relatively cheaper sources to the energy-efficient investment that we are asking them to make. The world will have to make available the necessary resources, which is part of the discussion that we must have in the run-up to Copenhagen.

I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman says about the importance of financial services to our economy, but as I said to him last week, I do not think that he can assume that high street or ordinary retail banks and investment banks are not both sources of the problems that we have had, because high street banks had problems and investment banks had problems. His determination to separate the two is perhaps not the best way to move forward. In both cases, what we need is proper supervision, but we need it now, at a cross-border and international level. That is the purpose of the European measures that we have brought forward. I know that he wants to support greater co-operation in Europe, and this is one way in which British banks and British financial institutions can benefit from greater European co-operation.

The Prime Minister referred, in the context of the welcome agreement with Ireland, to the prospects for a future accession treaty. Can he say whether there was any discussion, either in the meetings or in the margins of the meetings, about the application by the new Social Democratic Government in Iceland for accelerated membership of the EU or about the difficulties between Croatia and Slovenia, which could block future enlargement in the Balkans?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is an expert on both those areas of the world. Croatia was a subject of discussion. We hope that the differences between the two countries will come to be resolved, so that Croatia can accede to membership of the European Union. We know that Iceland is seeking to apply for membership of the European Union, but that was not discussed at the meeting.

Order. A very large number of Members are seeking to catch my eye. I am keen to ensure that as many as possible can participate, so I appeal to Members to ask one brief supplementary question.

Over what time period does the Council think that quantitative easing and excessive budget deficits should be brought under control?

The Council said that we have got to do what it takes to restore jobs and growth in the economy. Given that the problem that we have is not one of inflation or excessively high interest rates, it is right to take the fiscal action that is necessary. I do not think that any serious governing party in Europe agrees with the position taken by Opposition Members, which is that we should cut public expenditure at this time.

Given that the Prime Minister has outlined his view that European co-operation is fundamental, whether on building and maintaining jobs in this country, combating climate change or helping the developing world, can he tell me whether he really believes that retreating into Euroscepticism would be anything other than not only self-defeating self-indulgence, but massively damaging for Britain and the world?

I think it is damaging for our country that the main Opposition party cannot ally with the German Christian Democrats, the French party on the right or the Italian party on the right. The Opposition are out of touch and out of step. They are not in line with some of the major centre-right, Christian democrat or other right-wing parties in Europe, and I think that does Britain no good at all.

Before we can judge whether President Sarkozy was right in claiming that the Prime Minister had changed gears on European financial regulation, ought we not to resolve the problem, which emerged clearly at the Mansion House, of the disagreement between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Governor of the Bank of England about the necessary changes to our regulatory system, in order to replace the disastrous one that the Prime Minister introduced in 1997?

We have a tripartite system, where the Bank of England, the Treasury and the Financial Services Authority work together. [Interruption.] The Leader of the Opposition mentions the Fed. It is exactly a tripartite system that is being proposed in America as well, and it is right to have a financial services authority, a central bank and the Treasury of every country working together.

Can the Prime Minister confirm that the people of Ireland are to be asked to vote on exactly and precisely the same wording of a treaty that they previously rejected?

The Irish brought forward concerns about abortion, family law, taxation and neutrality. In the protocol, it is made clear what the treaty means in those areas. The protocol that they are to receive is exactly similar to the protocol that we have received.

The Prime Minister is quite right to highlight the view of the Irish Government and people that they wanted safeguards relating to their ability to set their own taxes and to make their own defence commitments and other policies. Does he agree that their having won guarantees on those issues at the EU summit is proof of a small country exercising significant diplomatic clout at the top table of the European Union?

The hon. Gentleman used to talk about an arc of security—[Hon. Members: “Prosperity.”]—an arc of prosperity that included Iceland, Scotland and Ireland. He must understand that the economic problems in Iceland and Ireland and the economic problems of the banks in Scotland were very big indeed.

The presidency’s conclusions call for strong action against criminal networks involved in human trafficking. On 20 May, the Prime Minister gave a commitment that the budget of the Metropolitan police trafficking unit would be increased. Is that going to happen soon?

I think that my right hon. Friend will find that there are very large resources going into this issue, but I will write to him with the details.

Why does the Prime Minister think that handing over the regulation of the City of London to countries that either have no experience of regulating large financial sectors or have been so conspicuously unsuccessful that none has a financial system even a quarter the size of our own will be beneficial to London?

Because we are in a global economy and we need to work with other countries to secure the prosperity of our country. As 400 financial institutions from the rest of Europe are based in London, it is in our interest that there is co-operation with other regulatory authorities in Europe. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman does not fall for the argument that Britain is somehow better off isolated from the rest of Europe. We are better off co-operating with Europe.

Does the Prime Minister consider that current developments in Iran have any implications for Iran’s policy of destroying the state of Israel?

We remain concerned about events in Iran and their implications for the rest of the world, but the most important question in Iran at the moment is that the views of the Iranian people as shown in an election should be properly fulfilled. The debate in Iran at the moment shows that people want greater transparency in the publication of the election results, so that it can be clear that the results reflect the will of the Iranian people.

With regard to Iran, does the Prime Minister agree that, coming from the present Iranian regime, Britain’s having been dubbed the embodiment of evil is actually a considerable compliment? Does this not reflect the admirably steadfast service provided by the British ambassador in Tehran and all his staff, including the two diplomats who have just been unjustifiably expelled? Does it not also reflect the admirable decision by the BBC to establish the Persian language service, and also the professional contribution that has been made by British journalists overseas in Iran over a considerable period—

I am grateful for that question, because it allows me to put on record my tribute and my thanks to the ambassador and all his staff in Tehran, and to all those who are working for the United Kingdom Government. I also want to put on record our appreciation of the work that is being done in pursuing the freedom of the press by the BBC and other journalists. I believe that the reporting by the BBC is important now to the people of Iran.

My right hon. Friend rightly refers to unemployment as a great danger, and it is indeed rising unemployment that poses the greatest threat with regard to prolonging and even intensifying the recession. Was there any discussion about what member states can do to intervene in their economies to create jobs directly and to avoid this mass rise in unemployment?

The summit said that we would do what is necessary to restore growth and jobs, and that is the message that other countries in Europe have heeded from the recession. As there is not a problem with inflation or with high interest rates, it is right to take fiscal action to intervene to help move growth forward and, at the same time, to create employment. We have ourselves taken measures to create 150,000 extra jobs. I believe that without the action that we have taken to combat the recession, 500,000 more jobs would be lost. I believe that other countries recognise that it is necessary to intervene to deal with the problems created by the recession, and that we cannot adopt a do nothing approach and walk away.

Will the Prime Minister understand, contrary to what he has just stated, that the Irish arrangements amend the Lisbon treaty and fundamentally and greatly extend the Irish treaty protocol of 1992 so that these arrangements affect all member states and therefore require re-ratification now and must be enacted by a Bill in this Parliament, in Ireland and in all the member states?

I know that, whatever was decided at the European Council, the hon. Gentleman would be calling for exactly that. Let me just read to him what was said:

“The protocol will in no way alter the relationship between the EU and its Member States”.

[Interruption.] That was stated by the Council, including the Irish. The sole purpose of the protocol will be to give full treaty status to the clarification set out in the decision to meet the concerns of the Irish—

Order. The hon. Gentleman has asked his question, and he must listen respectfully and silently to the answer.

The Council was right to commit itself again to reaching the millennium development goals. However, non-governmental organisations have recently highlighted that previous promises made by the Council and the G8 have largely not been met by other European countries, although a green light was given to the UK’s performance. What commitments were given and what future remains for the poorest people and the rest of the planet when so many previous promises have been lost?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the European Council, the G8 and then the G20 will have to continue to focus on how we achieve the millennium development goals. There are 40 million more children at school than in 2000, so progress is being made in a number of areas, including infant mortality as well as education, but there is a long way to go. That is why when we come to the G8 in a few weeks’ time, I will press for further action on famine and malnutrition, which has tragically risen over the last year, as well as continuation of the necessary action to meet the millennium development goals on infant and maternal mortality and education, as well as on the whole issue of poverty.

Given that the Zimbabwean Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, has been in Europe, including London, over the last few days, was Zimbabwe discussed at the European Council? Given the fact that we and other European countries are rightly increasing the amount of aid given to the country, should we not expect at the very least that all European broadcasters, including the BBC, should be able to broadcast freely from Zimbabwe?

I met Morgan Tsvangirai on Monday and I raised with him precisely that question about access for the BBC and other broadcasters in Zimbabwe. A media commission has been set up to register people who wish to broadcast from within Zimbabwe, and Mr. Tsvangirai assures me that action is being taken on that. We will have to follow it up, but that was the intention he stated to me.

As to the general issue of Zimbabwe, we have provided additional aid on a humanitarian basis to people who are suffering in Zimbabwe, but we must be sure that the promised reforms, constitutional changes and end of repression are actually happening before we can enter into long-term agreements about the reconstruction of the country.

May I welcome the announced creation of a single market in financial services and the improved co-ordination of supervision, recognising the potential that it offers to the City? In the event of tension between national and European supervision, will my right hon. Friend explain how he feels the mediation service will be sensitive to the specific needs of the British financial services industry?

I believe that the mediation service is in the interests of London, where 400 institutions from the rest of Europe are operating, as I said. We need the co-operation of other regulators to make sure that things are in order. Mediation can therefore take place in only two specific areas: first, to ensure that the rules—that is, the rulebook—are being observed; and, secondly, if there is a dispute between home and host country. In both cases, I believe that that mediation will be in the long-term interests of Britain.

In looking forward to Sweden’s presidency, with its emphasis on climate change and the economy, will the Prime Minister tell the House how much easier it will be to bring Europe out of what we all recognise as a Europe-wide recession by engaging with mainstream European leaders such as Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy rather than by throwing away our influence by joining up with the fruitcake fringe of climate change deniers, Obama-haters and commemorators of the Waffen SS?

It is in British interests that our parties work with Chancellor Merkel, President Sarkozy, Prime Minister Berlusconi and other leaders in Europe. It is sad that the Conservative party has rejected that centre-right grouping in favour of another grouping that contains a number of people with whose views I certainly could not agree and most people in this House would find it difficult to agree.

Beyond the need for more co-operation and closer financial surveillance, has not the Prime Minister now conceded that the mediation proposed on cross-border supervision will in fact now be binding on our national regulator?

No, Mr. Speaker. Only in two instances is the mediation binding and these two instances are in the interests of Britain. The first is if there is a dispute between home and host country. I can think of many instances where the possibility of such mediation would be in the interests of our country. The second is in the application of the rules. If we have common rules—we want common rules not just in Europe, but around the world—it makes sense to show that these rules are being observed.

On jobs and the leadership that the Prime Minister has provided, not least at the G20 summit, to help us get through this international recession, are there now grounds for cautious optimism that the Government’s measures have in fact saved the British banking system? Is it not worth noting in passing that as far as lending for investment is concerned, a number of British companies are having successful rights issues for this purpose?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising these issues. It is fair to say that we have gone further than other countries in the agreements that we have signed with the major banks in our country. The major banks have agreed to £70 billion of extra lending over the next year from 1 March and another £70 billion in the year after that. That additional money will become available to small businesses as well as large businesses and mortgage holders in this country. We have taken action not only to recapitalise the banks, but to make sure that the banks are in a position to lend to business and have agreed to do so. That is the difference between what was happening a few months ago and what is happening now.

On jobs, I repeat that the best estimate is that without the action that we have taken, 500,000 more jobs would have been lost. Any unemployment is to be regretted but surely it is our responsibility in a time of recession to do our best by helping unemployed people to get back to work. That demands the expenditure of money and that is the choice between ourselves and the Opposition; we are prepared to invest the money to help people back to work.

The Prime Minister has said that the guarantees to the Irish people will be given effect in protocols but these, apparently, are to be added to a completely different treaty as and when further countries accede to the European Union at some uncertain time in the future. In the meantime, do the guarantees have legal effect and if so, how?

They will be deposited, in the way that often happens, at the United Nations, and will have legal effect from the time the Lisbon treaty is in force.

Do not the people of this country have every right to expect that the Government place themselves in a position where they can maximise their influence on issues such as regulation of the financial services market, creating jobs and stimulating the economy, rather than marching themselves off to the fringes of the debate in Europe with some flaky right-wing group? Should not the Government be in the vanguard of discussions and make sure that they address issues of concern to all my constituents?

I know that some parties are happy to be in concert with the Polish Law and Justice party, the Czech forum, the Motherland party—[Interruption.] The Leader of the Opposition is saying that we are meeting the President of Poland; that is absolutely right, but we are not going into a grouping that takes extreme right-wing—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr. Kawczynski, I am keen to call you but if you keep yelling from a sedentary position, it does not advance your chances.

We are not going into a grouping with extreme right-wing groups who have views that not many people in this House would ever support.

In the light of the clear statements of informed observers that the presidential election result in Iran was hopelessly flawed, was not the Prime Minister somewhat embarrassed by the lukewarm statement from the European Council, and did he try to amend it?

No. The outcome of the elections in Iran is a matter for the Iranian people. We wish to ensure that the democratic rights of the Iranian people are upheld. We do not wish to have a quarrel with Iran. We wish to work with it on international matters that require the attention of both of us, but, of course, we cannot stand by when there is repression, and when there is violence and intimidation against the people of Iran.

Interim targets on climate change suggest that by 2020 there must be a reduction of 17 gigatonnes from business as usual. Given that only 5 gigatonnes are achievable within the developed world, at a cost of less than €60 per tonne, what assessment has the Prime Minister made of the amount of funds that will need to be made in offsets to achieve the required reduction?

This is a matter that the whole world will have to look at in the run-up to Copenhagen. We are going to need to provide finance in the same way that we provide overseas development aid, to ensure that the poorest countries are able to invest in energy efficiency. The first thing to do is to recognise the importance of climate change, the second thing to do is to get the intermediate targets, and the third thing to do is to get the finance that is necessary. I look forward to working with other countries, including America now, to get that climate change agreement.

Is the Prime Minister aware that very recently the Treasury Minister Lord Myners gave evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee in which he gave an unqualified assurance that the Government were strongly against giving EU financial authorities powers over national regulators? Why then do the conclusions to the summit agree to give the European system binding decision-making powers over national regulators in several important respects? Why do Ministers give an assurance to this House in one respect and then break that word a few weeks later?

But the principle that the right hon. Gentleman does not support is that we should co-operate and work with other authorities in Europe to deal with financial sector problems. If we are to co-operate with other authorities—and 400 other European institutions are based in London—it is in our interests that there is a mediation system to deal with disputes between the home country and the host country, and that is why it is in the British national interest to have that agreement. Equally, it is in our national interest to see the rules that are agreed being observed. These are the only two instances in which we have agreed to have mediation, but it is the right thing to do for Britain.

When my right hon. Friend was Chancellor, he will remember his Hungarian counterpart Bokros and the Bokros austerity measures. Now that he is a member of the MDF—the Hungarian Democratic Forum—and part of the Conservative grouping in the European Union, will this not make for a collision between the Council and the Conservative grouping in the European Parliament?

This new grouping in the European Parliament is, I believe, an embarrassment to all of us, but I have to say that even the Polish Law and Justice party supports a cut in VAT and is against a cut in spending. Even within their own new grouping, the Conservatives do not have a majority.

Does the Prime Minister not realise the extraordinary damage that his undiplomatic language is causing to Anglo-Polish relations? His comments on the Law and Justice party are an absolute disgrace and an affront to the Polish people who voted for that party and the President. Will he apologise to the Polish President and the Polish people, and categorically state that the Law and Justice party is not a fringe party?

I think the hon. Gentleman is getting too embarrassed by this new political grouping. I pointed out that the Polish Law and Justice party supports the cut in VAT and is against cuts in spending. I have praised it for those two policies; unfortunately, the Opposition party cannot accept those policies.

The poisonous influence of Iran continues to be spread around the middle east even as its Government oppress their own people and press ahead with plans to build nuclear weapons. What firm plans does the EU have to escalate the pressure on the Iranian Government to make sure they never get hold of nuclear weapons?

Iran has a choice: it can either become a full member of the international community by respecting human rights and its international obligations, or it will become increasingly isolated from the international community. I think that everybody in this House knows that that is the choice the Iranian Administration and the Iranian people have to make.

The House of Commons Library confirms that last year, the UK’s contribution to the European Union was £3 billion. Next year, it is going to be £6.5 billion. At a time when the Prime Minister’s Government are having to cut public expenditure in real terms, why is our contribution to the European Union more than doubling?

It is to pay our share as part of a European Union that includes the Czech Republic, Poland, Latvia and many of the other countries with which the Conservative party wants to be associated. I believe that it is right that we share the burden of membership of the European Union, so that every part of the European Union can look forward to prosperity.

The protocol will come before the House at the time of the next accession treaty. That is what was decided at the European Council and that is what I recommend to the House.

Who make the better allies for Britain—veterans of the Polish Solidarity movement, or veterans of Poland’s authoritarian communist Government?

If the hon. Gentleman wants to look at the new membership of the right-wing grouping that the Conservative party is now part of, I think he will be increasingly embarrassed by some of the views that are put forward by members of that grouping. They have rejected the mainstream in Europe as a Conservative party and are now isolated on the fringes of Europe and out of touch with European opinion.

Parliamentary Standards

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to update the House on the issue of parliamentary standards, but first I would like to offer you congratulations on your election yesterday. I look forward to working with you on issues of concern to members of the public and Members of this House.

The public want to have full confidence in the parliamentary system. Members want there to be full confidence in the system, so that the cloud of suspicion is lifted and the reputation of the House can be restored. Like you, Mr. Speaker, I strongly believe that the overwhelming majority of Members of Parliament are decent people who work hard to serve the public interest, not to serve their own self-interest, but that is not the impression the public have, and so we are taking action.

It is the actions that are under way that I want to set out to the House today. They are the changes to our allowances that we have already made; the publication last week of our last four years’ allowances; the publication of our 2008-09 allowances; a revised code of conduct for Members, updated by the Standards and Privileges Committee and published today; the introduction later this afternoon of the Parliamentary Standards Bill; the proposal, to be debated this Thursday, for a new Committee of the House, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), to strengthen the role of Parliament; a new registration system, starting on 1 July, for full transparency on Members’ second jobs; the work of Sir Thomas Legg, who is leading a team to establish what might need to be paid back from claims over the last four years; the work of the Committee on Standards in Public Life to propose a new allowance system; and then, the new independent parliamentary standards authority, which is starting work and taking over the whole of our allowances system and running it.

First, changes have already been made to our allowances system. Since 19 May this year, and arising out of the meeting between the then Speaker and the party leaders, there can now be no claiming for furniture and no changing the designation of a main home. There is a cap on monthly rent or mortgage payments, every claim must be backed up by a receipt, and MPs who are couples can only claim for one second home.

On publication, last Thursday, every claim by and payment to all Members over the last four years was published by the House authorities on the House of Commons website. Of course, we must protect Members’ security, but for the publication of the 2008-09 receipts this autumn, the question of redaction will be looked at again, having considered the advice of the Information Commissioner.

On payback, work has begun by Sir Thomas Legg, who has been contracted by the House authorities to lead a reassessment of all claims over the past four years and, having reconsidered each claim and the evidence submitted to support it, to report whether it was within the rules as they obtained at the time, with a view to ensuring that where there has been overpayment, it is paid back. The public expect that over-claims will be paid back, and that will happen, together with any necessary disciplinary action.

Work is under way by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which, with Sir Christopher Kelly as chair, is undertaking a root-and-branch review of the allowances and will make recommendations. It is taking evidence and will complete its work in the autumn. I have already given oral evidence to the committee, and set out for it the principles that I believe that the House would want to underpin a new allowance system. Those principles are that the system should be simple and transparent; that it should reduce the cost to the taxpayer; that second-home arrangements should be consistent as between the allowance system and the tax system; that the system should sustain the all-important constituency link; that it should sustain our ability to work effectively on behalf of our constituents and communicate with them; that it should support the inclusion, as Members of this House, of those with family responsibilities and those with disabilities; that it should allow us to decide for ourselves how we do our work and not put us in a straitjacket; that it should protect the ability of those on low incomes to come into the House; and that it should command public confidence.

This afternoon, the Parliamentary Standards Bill will be published. It will establish a new, wholly independent authority to take over the role of the Fees Office in authorising Members’ claims, overseeing a new allowance system, following proposals from the Committee on Standards in Public Life and maintaining the Register of Members’ Interests. I assure the House that as the new independent authority for allowances is established, we will work closely and sympathetically with the House authorities on the future of the staff currently working in the Department of Resources.

The Bill will also create new criminal offences of knowingly making a false claim for an allowance, failing without reasonable excuse to register a relevant interest, and contravening without reasonable excuse the rules on paid advocacy. That will put Members of the House on the same footing as we have, in legislation, put local councillors and Members of the Scottish Parliament. I shall set out in my business statement the date for Second Reading of the Bill, but the House should know that we intend its Committee stage, as well as Report and Third Reading, to be taken on the Floor of the House. We hope that there is sufficient consensus, following the consultation that has been led by my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary, for it to gain Royal Assent by the time the House rises for the summer recess. The new authority could then be ready to start work with the Kelly committee’s recommendations by the end of this year.

The Justice Secretary and I are grateful for the constructive cross-party discussions that preceded the Bill’s introduction. A number of those on the cross-party group, including the Government, are prepared to go further. The Bill is the first stage of legislation, and covers the specific but important and urgent task of setting up an independent authority to run our expenses system.

The Prime Minister, in his statement to the House on 10 June, set out his concern that we should make progress on strengthening the role of the House in holding the Government to account. Today we will table resolutions for debate on Thursday that will establish a new parliamentary Committee for a time-limited period, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase, that will look into, and make recommendations on, enabling petitions from the public to find their way into debates and votes in this House. It will also look at strengthening Select Committees, and will consider, and make proposals for, the House choosing non-Government business.

Finally, the public are entitled to know who is making payments to their MP, how much is being paid, and what the MP is doing for that payment. Following the resolution of the House of 30 April, there will, from 1 July, be a new registration requirement, so that any payment to an MP for services, whether in cash or kind, will have to be registered. Guidance from the registrar of Members’ financial interests has been sent to all Members this morning. That will mean that for the first time, the public will be able to see all the payments that are made to Members. The public want to know who, other than them, is paying their MP. The Kelly committee is looking further into that, and will report on whether transparency is enough, or whether we need to do more.

The abuse by some Members of our allowance system has caused a high level of public concern. It has required this comprehensive range of actions to ensure that we can say to the public, in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), “We get it, and we’re sorting it.”

May I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for advance sight of her statement?

Over the years, Mr. Speaker, you and I have often joked that we are frequently mistaken for each other—I am not quite sure why. Indeed only last night as I was walking through the Central Lobby, I was accosted by a Bishop who congratulated me on becoming Speaker. Whenever you made speeches in this House, I used to get stopped in the street the next day to be praised for what I had said. I always considered that to be a mixed blessing, but from now on, it is an honour.

This House needs to recognise two things. The first is the depth of public anger that we have faced over the last couple of months. The second is the need to have a Parliament that works and does not become so brow-beaten and rules-driven that it loses all the confidence and freedom it needs to do its job properly.

This statement is very simply a recapitulation of all the various decisions and processes that have been announced over the last few weeks. Internally, the Conservative party has taken a great deal of action and has led the way in bringing a far greater degree of transparency to what was an inadequate and murky system of allowances. We have introduced “right to know” forms for registering family members, strictly limited the things that can be claimed for under the second homes allowance and those on our Front Bench are now publishing online every receipt and relevant piece of correspondence that we have with the Department of Resources.

The Leader of the House and I attended the meeting of the party leaders where the changes that she has just described were discussed and agreed, and they were almost identical to the ones that the Conservative party had implemented. Across the House, we all feel that we have gone a long way to removing the perceived excesses and absurdities of the second homes allowance.

Despite the massive step towards transparency, publication last week of redacted receipts turned out to be an unmitigated PR disaster. Big black splodges, even if they were on top of completely blank paper, looked like censorship on a massive scale, even where they were not. Will the right hon. and learned Lady confirm that only the barest minimum necessary to protect genuinely private information and anything necessary to prevent identity fraud will be redacted when the 2008-09 receipts are published in October?

May I say that Sir Thomas Legg is an excellent choice to undertake an audit of all claims from the last four years as he is a man of unimpeachable integrity? The reports of the Committee on Standards and Privilege enjoy an official status in this House and, although not strictly speaking judicial, their verdict is always taken as authoritative. What does the Leader of the House take to be the status, official or otherwise, of Sir Thomas Legg’s inquiry and the report we expect from him in September? Where in law will it leave a Member who has been reported unfairly as having cheated and fiddled?

In her statement, the Leader of the House re-announced her intention to set up a temporary Select Committee to propose parliamentary reform. She has already proposed that the chairman should be the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). Will she confirm that this Committee should do its work and then report just once, probably in November as she originally proposed, and that in setting it up she will agree at the same time to abolish the Modernisation Committee, which has not met for months and is clearly redundant?

The Leader of the House has referred to the Committee on Standards in Public Life and also to today’s imminent publication of the Parliamentary Standards Bill. Whereas the original Nolan report of 1995 outlined some clear principles about what Parliament should be and what it should mean to be an MP, many of those principles seem to have been completely ignored, distorted and even discarded during the hand-to-mouth reaction of the last couple of months. One such area is what she calls “pay transparency”. The Nolan principles made a clear and deliberate distinction between the payments and income that had a direct bearing on a Member’s parliamentary conduct and other such payments that definitely did not. The resolution of the House about outside earnings has led to a new code of conduct, published today, which many Members have already told me they think is unworkable. Is she satisfied that it is, in practice, workable as the resolution of the House has demanded?

In order to determine the rules that are made to govern our conduct, should we not define in advance a clear set of principles to determine what our Parliament should be? Could we not, for instance, as a bare minimum, say that Parliament should be the free association of elected individuals, unrestrained and untrammelled by any partial interests or rules beyond those wholly necessary for MPs to carry out their duties with honesty and integrity? Perhaps, in future, this House can take definite and further steps on that sort of basis to sort out the mess that it is in.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the work that he has undertaken in consultation with the Justice Secretary and me and as a member of the Members Estimate Committee. I think that it is important for the public to be able to see that the whole House of Commons understands that we need to restore the reputation of all Members of the House and for us to work together to that end. I do not think that the public, who looked in dismay at the situation, would be further encouraged to see any party trying to take party political advantage of the situation. We simply need to work together to sort it out.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the redaction of receipts. It is obviously important to ensure that the fullest possible information, compliant with the Freedom of Information Act, is put into the public domain. If public money is paying for the allowances, the public need to know which MP has spent how much and on what.

The way in which receipts were submitted in the past few years means that it is necessary to blot out those items, such as telephone numbers on a telephone bill, that should not be put into the public domain. If we claim for something bought by one of our assistants, and the proof of that purchase is on their credit card account, we should not put the whole of their credit card number into the public domain. We have to cross out those things that have not been claimed for. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that only the barest minimum should be redacted. As he is a member of the Members Estimate Committee, like me, he is in a better position than most other Members of the House to discuss the matter with the new Speaker.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the status of Sir Thomas Legg’s inquiry. As a member of the Members Estimate Committee, the hon. Gentleman took part in the discussion that supported the House authorities in contracting Sir Thomas Legg to carry out the inquiry. This work is being done on behalf of the House authorities, and the Legg inquiry will report to the House authorities. When the House is advised that money has been over-claimed, steps will be taken to get that back.

The hon. Gentleman asked where the law stood in respect of someone who was unfairly reported by Sir Thomas Legg as having received an overpayment—[Interruption.]

I thought that the hon. Gentleman was asking where it left a Member if Sir Thomas Legg said that there had been an overpayment. The answer to that question—even if he did not ask it—is that Sir Thomas Legg will notify Members in advance of publishing his report that he has found that there has been an overpayment. That will enable them to say, “Actually, I have got a copy of that mortgage invoice, and here it is.” Members will be able to respond before the report is published and put into the public domain.

The hon. Gentleman made some suggestions about how the new parliamentary Committee should work. I agree that it is a good idea for it to be of limited duration and for it to focus on bringing together much of the work that has been done by hon. Members across a number of Committees so that we can focus and make some progress on strengthening Parliament. I think that meeting over a limited period of time and reporting once sound like good ideas.

I could not quite work out whether the hon. Gentleman was in favour of the pay transparency of the new registration system. He asked whether it was workable. I can tell him that it is and that new guidance has been issued today. The new system will be workable if hon. Members approach it as follows: if they agree to do something for someone in return for money or a benefit in kind, they should register that. I think that that is fair enough.

It is not registered entirely at the moment. Ironically, work that is not related to the duties of a Member of Parliament is not registered at all. A person’s work as a doctor, dentist or barrister does not have to be registered at present, although all details of such income will have to be registered from 1 July.

The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) asked whether the code of conduct should contain principles. There are principles in the code of conduct, and I commend the work undertaken by the Standards and Privileges Committee to produce the new code of conduct, and the rules relating to the conduct of Members, that have been published in the House today.

Order. Many Members are hoping to catch my eye, and a great many wish to contribute to the debate that follows. I therefore repeat what Mr. Speaker has said about brief, single supplementary questions. I call Sir Stuart Bell.

I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it not a fact that the institution of Parliament has been severely damaged by the actions of its Members, for which we all accept responsibility? Only by getting our Members to understand their responsibilities can that reputation be restored. My right hon. and learned Friend has talked about the new Bill coming before the House and said that it will become law before the summer recess. She seems to be confident that there will be some kind of consensus on the Floor of the House but, given the remarks by the shadow Leader of the House, may I tell her that I am less optimistic than she is?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his long years of work on the Members Estimate Committee. I believe that public confidence will be restored when it is clearly evident that we have clear rules, and that their operation is wholly independent of the House. Following the extensive cross-party talks that have taken place—and I should like to thank all those who took part in them—I believe that we can achieve a consensus. The public expect us to act, and to do so swiftly. Although the normal extended parliamentary timetable is important for scrutiny, in this case I think that people would see it merely as a cover for us diving into the long grass and rustling around. We have to get a move on with setting up an independent parliamentary standards authority. It is necessary, and we should get on with it.

I thank the Leader of the House for her statement, and for my early sight of it. The public will welcome the fact that a shared view is emerging that fundamental reform is urgent and vital. However, I also suspect that people may be getting a little tired of party leaders trying to claim unique credit for that, whether on the lunchtime news or in this Chamber. I also wish that there was a shared view among hon. Members about the commitment to transparency and openness. I am not yet convinced that that is the case, and it may be something that we still need to work on.

That brings me naturally to the publication of expenses. As far as I am concerned, data protection is important but having acres of black space is a redaction to the absurd. In my published expenses, the address of my local newspaper was removed, apparently because I had put in a receipt for an advertisement that I had placed. That suggests that we need to look at the matter again, and urgently.

The Leader of the House knows that I have also given evidence to the Kelly committee. As she said, what is required is what is needed to do the job as a Member of Parliament—no more, no less. My view is that the right way forward is that basic accommodation costs only should be claimed, but we must wait and see what Kelly says. I ask her to confirm yet again that the Government will accept the recommendations of the Kelly inquiry, whatever they may be. Will she also confirm that she will accept the recommendations of the Committee to be chaired by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) and put those recommendations, whatever they are, before the House, rather than editing them in advance?

On the Parliamentary Standards Bill, the Leader of the House knows that we support the principle of external regulation. Has she given any further thought to registers held by the House, other than the Register of Members’ Interests, that should be covered by the Bill? Will she look again at the common law offence of misconduct in public office? The maximum penalties for the offence are life imprisonment and unlimited fines, which many of our constituents may feel is insufficient for many Members. Will the right hon. and learned Lady look at putting that on a statutory basis, as recommended by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 1997?

Lastly, I welcome the transparency that is being proposed on non-parliamentary income, but I feel there are still problems with the de minimis requirements and their connection with the advocacy rules. I do not want us to be in the position that no Member of the House can visit a factory in their constituency and accept a cup of tea and then say something in the House about the industry or their constituency. I do not think that the code of conduct and the guidance notes yet make the distinction that provides for those circumstances.

The Leader of the House has our general support for the measures she has put forward today. We must now make progress, and the sooner we can do so, the better.

As I said, the House authorities will be looking again at the question of redactions. That exercise, which they undertook for the first time, involved 800,000 pages, so inevitably some things that Members are concerned about will fall either side of the line. Before the 2008-09 receipts are published, Members will be able to look again at all those issues and discuss them with the Information Commissioner, and any Member who wants to can submit suggestions about the issues in principle.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether there will be acceptance of the report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life under the chairmanship of Sir Christopher Kelly. The hope is that we do not once again have to trawl through all the issues we went through last July and this January. There is the expectation that we will be able to accept the report and we certainly hope that will be the case.

I agree that we expect the proposals of the Committee chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase to come before the House through a resolution. That is the whole point. There is no point a Committee sitting, having a lot of good thoughts and making good proposals if nothing happens as a result. There is a commitment on the Labour Benches to seeing such proposals go forward.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the offence of misconduct in public office should be put on a statutory footing. That is being considered by my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary, but it would not be a matter for the Parliamentary Standards Bill, which we have tried to keep narrow and focused.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the difficulty of transparency in the registration of pay. As he is a great champion of transparency on allowances, I ask him to apply that mindset to the question of transparency on pay. If somebody has a cup of tea when visiting a factory, nobody would regard it as payment for services. I think Members can distinguish payment for services from a donation. Different rules will apply to donations from those that apply to payment for services. We all need to make the rules work. This is long overdue: if people take money from their constituents for doing things, the public should know about it.