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Business of the House

Volume 494: debated on Thursday 25 June 2009

The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 29 June—Second Reading of the Parliamentary Standards Bill.

Tuesday 30 June—Consideration in Committee of the Parliamentary Standards Bill.

Wednesday 1 July—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Parliamentary Standards Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Saving Gateway Accounts Bill.

Thursday 2 July—Estimates [3rd allotted day]. There will be a debate on looked-after children, followed by a debate on road safety. Details will be given in the Official Report.

[The details are as follows: Looked-after Children (3rd Report from the Children, Schools and Families Committee, HC 111 and Government response (4th Special report HC 787, to be published on Monday 29 June); Ending the Scandal of Complacency: Road Safety beyond 2010 (Eleventh Report from the Transport Committee, Session 2007-08, HC 460), and the Government’s responses (First and Second Special Reports, Session 2008-09, HC 136 and HC422).]

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

Friday 3 July—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 6 July will include:

Monday 6 July—Opposition Day [15th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced, followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No.2) Bill.

Tuesday 7 July—Remaining stages of the Finance Bill (Day 1).

Wednesday 8 July—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Finance Bill (Day 2).

Thursday 9 July—Topical debate, subject to be announced, followed by a motion to approve the Draft Terrorism Act 2006 (Disapplication of Section 25) Order 2009, followed by a motion to approve the Draft Council Tax Limitation (Maximum Amounts) (England) Order 2009.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 9 July will be:

Thursday 9 July—A debate on the report from the Foreign Affairs Committee entitled “Global Security: Iran”.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business, but the way in which she appears to be presiding over House business at the moment does seem a tad shambolic. Last week, we were informed that the Government would be tabling today’s motions in good time to give the House as much opportunity as possible to look over the proposals. However, nothing appeared on the Order Paper until yesterday. Then, on the same day, the Government inexplicably withdrew the motion that would have established a new ad hoc Committee on reforming this House. Will she advise us as to quite what is happening? If, as I suspect, the Government were embarrassed by the gulf between the Prime Minister’s announcement and the proposed remit of the Committee, which was so narrow as to render the whole exercise absurd, why did not the Government simply support the amendments on the Order Paper that would have widened the Committee’s scope and spared the right hon. and learned Lady’s blushes? Or is the real truth that this whole episode was dreamt up in the No. 10 bunker merely to fill a space in a prime ministerial press release? When will the Committee now be established?

On the new Parliamentary Standards Bill, which we will debate in its entirety next week, will the Leader of the House give her guarantee that issues of privilege will not be discussed by the House at the Bill’s Committee stage until the Clerk of the House has given evidence to the Justice Select Committee, as I believe he is scheduled to do on Tuesday?

May we have a statement from the Home Secretary on the status of the Government’s policy on identity cards? Four statutory instruments on ID cards were due to be debated last week, but then The Sunday Times reported—correctly, as it turned out—that they were to be shelved for a month. In view of your important and welcome statement on ministerial statements yesterday, Mr. Speaker, will the right hon. and learned Lady now promise that the Home Secretary will come to Parliament to clarify here what Ministers have been briefing in private—namely, that the Government realise that they are on to a loser and are getting ready to perform yet another major policy U-turn?

Similarly, will the right hon. and learned Lady confirm the mysterious whereabouts of the Postal Services Bill, on which the Business Secretary has staked his reputation and, along with it, the Prime Minister’s career? I have asked about this twice before and have twice received inadequate answers. There are only 16 sitting days left before the summer recess. The Bill’s First Reading was over four weeks ago and, as the right hon. and learned Lady knows, Second Reading would normally follow swiftly behind. Is the Bill going to be delivered from the upper House or has it—as I heard hon. Members saying just a few seconds ago—been permanently lost in the post?

In the provisional business that the right hon. and learned Lady announced last week, the Child Poverty Bill was scheduled for this coming Monday. Now that we are going to be debating the Parliamentary Standards Bill on Monday instead, will she give us a commitment that the House will indeed debate this important Bill before the summer recess? We on the Opposition Benches are full of contributions that we wish to make to the legislation. The issue is all the more important in the light of yesterday’s Office for National Statistics figures on the level of deprivation facing children growing up in London, nearly a quarter of whom are living in households where no one is working and which are plagued by obesity and crime. As the Leader of the House represents an inner-London borough, and for the sake of those whom the legislation seeks to protect, may I ask the her to guarantee not to lose sight of the Bill, and to bring it to the House as soon as possible?

Given the Prime Minister’s woeful performance at questions yesterday, may we have a full and urgent statement from him on financial honesty in the Government? Yesterday morning, Britain was found to be facing the biggest budget deficit in the world. At lunchtime, the Prime Minister’s attempts to defend himself in the Commons ended in ridicule. In the afternoon, the Governor of the Bank of England complained that he had been left in the dark about important aspects of Government policy, and delivered the final blow by calling on the Government to set tougher targets on the UK’s “extraordinary” debt levels. Is it not clear that the longer the Prime Minister deludes himself about being in power, the longer it will take the UK to recover?

Finally, may I simply note that, this week, we are celebrating the second anniversary of the right hon. and learned Lady’s ascension to her position as Leader of the House? I will send her a card saying “Now we are two.” Members may take that to mean anything they wish.

The shadow Leader of the House asked about the motion on the Committee. The intention is that this Committee of the House will be chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), and that it will consider the improvement of the processes for the Government being held to account by Members of this House. We tabled a motion, and amendments to it were tabled. We considered the amendments; in fact, more amendments have been tabled this morning. If we are trying to achieve consensus across the House, I think that it is right and proper that, instead of ploughing on with our resolution, we should listen to what is being said and see whether we can take on board the different points of view and proceed on a basis of consensus.

The shadow Leader of the House told everyone that he was a new man, but is it not quintessentially old politics to insist that we do not need to listen? As Leader of the House, it is important for me to listen to hon. Members when they table amendments, and to take into account what they suggest. I do not think that that is the sign of a shambles; it is the sign of how the Leader of the House should proceed. I do not think that it is a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength. The hon. Gentleman will be reassured to hear—I will talk to him and all other hon. Members about this—that we will proceed to bring forward a resolution, before the House rises, on which I hope the whole House can agree, so that we can set up the Committee and improve the way in which the House holds the Government to account.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the Parliamentary Standards Bill. He has seen it; it has been published, and it will be debated on the Floor of the House over three days. He will see from the face of the Bill that the question of parliamentary privilege is not an issue in that Bill, so that is not a question that hon. Members need to concern themselves with. Essentially, the Parliamentary Standards Bill sets up an authority to deal with our allowances to ensure that they are established and administered independently and that the public can have confidence that that is the case. It will not trample on the question of privilege.

On ID cards, there is no change in Government policy. The hon. Gentleman knows that the Home Secretary keeps the matter under review at all times. If there is any change in policy, the House will be kept updated. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have introduced biometric ID cards for foreign nationals, and I hope he supports that, as it is not only important for security, but speeds up the sorting out of identity questions so that access to visas, for example, is made easier for people who are genuinely who they say they are. He also knows that we are introducing this approach for air-side in airports, and that there will be no compulsory ID cards for everybody else without a vote in this House. If there is any change on that—I do not expect that there will be—the Home Secretary will keep the House informed. He keeps the matter under review, as I said.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the Postal Services Bill. It is not announced for next week’s business or that for the week after. He will see that we had to make a space for three days for the Parliamentary Standards Bill. I think it is important, with a crisis of public confidence in the House, to bring forward this measure and address it quickly. At the same time, to ensure proper scrutiny of the measure while bringing it in expeditiously, we need to give adequate time for it to be debated on the Floor of the House. That is why debate of the Parliamentary Standards Bill will be across three days.

The Child Poverty Bill is not in the business that I have announced, but I hope that it will be brought in before the summer recess. I expect that to be the case, and on the basis of what the hon. Gentleman said, I hope that the Opposition will vote for it when it comes before the House.

On the economy, it remains the No. 1 priority of the Government to take action to protect businesses and people’s jobs, and to make sure that if people lose their job, they do not also lose their home. We will intervene and take action in all those respects, and we will make sure that we grow the economy out of recession rather than cut it, which is not the way to take us out of the recession.

I am a generous sort, and I like to give credit where credit is due. I entirely applaud what the Leader of the House has just said—that from now on, she is going to consult before putting motions before the House; she is going to listen to what people say, and then react to those requests. Hallelujah! That is what we have been asking for for years. If that has happened in respect of the Committee to be chaired by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright)—I tabled a modest amendment, which was supported in all parts of the House, and the Leader of the House has now given me to understand that she will agree to it—it is very good news indeed.

When we look at today’s Order Paper, however, what do we see? We see motions 6 to 13, standing in the name of the Leader of the House, setting up the Regional Grand Committees. The right hon. and learned Lady knows that I support the idea of having such Committees, but has she consulted before tabling the motions? No, she has not. Has she canvassed the subject matter that the Regional Grand Committees will discuss? No, she has not. Has she sought convenient places and dates to enable those Committees to meet? No, she has not. All she has consulted is the so-called regional Ministers, who have then decided where those Committees will meet, when they will meet and what they will discuss. What sort of scrutiny of Government is that? Will she now withdraw motions 6 to 13 and talk to me and the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) in order to move forward?

The Government need to come clean on the question of ID cards. The Conservatives changed their minds eventually, and former Home Secretaries—and there are enough of them—have changed their minds, so when are the Government going to admit that they will have to change their mind on ID cards and come to the position that we have advocated all along?

In looking at how this House scrutinises business, can we look seriously at how we scrutinise Government expenditure? As I have said before, there is no adequate mechanism for the House as a whole to look at Government spending. We have estimates days which do not involve looking at estimates; we have Consolidated Fund motions which do not involve any debate on the Consolidated Fund; and we give more scrutiny to a ten-minute Bill than to the Government’s entire spending programme. Can we have some major reforms to enable us to carry out such scrutiny, so that we are not simply asked to write out cheques? If that had happened, we might not have been facing the biggest financial deficit that this country has ever seen, and the biggest seen in Europe. Can we have a debate very soon, so that we can see how the Government plan, as the Governor of the Bank of England says,

“to return to a sustainable position over the lifetime of the next Parliament”?

That is crucial. It is no good pretending that the bills are not mounting up; we have to find a way of paying them.

Finally, I welcome the fact that the Leader of the House has acceded the request I made last week about reconstituting the Science and Technology Committee. I suggest that the Committee be asked an early stage to look at the recent research of Professor Tonegawa, published in Neuron magazine, which reveals that we edit our memories when fast asleep. Could that explain the difference between what the Prime Minister says and what he does?

The question of what the Science and Technology Committee looks at is a matter for that Committee—if the House establishes the new Committee, as I am sure it will when we reach that part of our business this afternoon.

The hon. Gentleman asked about consultation relating to the Regional Grand Committees. I remind the House that motions will come before hon. Members later this afternoon to establish such Committees and to ensure that they sit in September, in the regions. Regional Grand Committees are Committees of all Members in a region, and they will look at how Government agencies and policies are working in that region. There was consultation, and it was with the Regional Select Committees. It is not my fault if the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will not sit on those Committees, or if the official Opposition do not want to join the Regional Select Committees. I think that they should join them; on behalf of the regions they represent, they should hold Government agencies to account. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will attend and play a part with regard to the Regional Grand Committees, and the Regional Select Committees as well.

On ID cards, I have nothing to add to what I said to the shadow Leader of the House.

The hon. Gentleman asked about scrutiny by the House of Government spending. It is not true to say that there is no scrutiny of Government spending: we have oral questions, the pre-Budget report and debates, as chosen by the Liaison Committee, of Select Committee reports. How the House scrutinises public spending is a subject that could fall within the remit of the Committee that we hope to establish under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright).

I have already said that I want to listen and consult before I table motions, and it is obviously even more necessary to listen and consult when amendments are forthcoming. There is nothing wrong, however, with the process of tabling a motion, seeing that there is a whole heap of amendments and then talking about the matter. That is not a U-turn; it is not weakness or backing down; it is about setting out a position, seeing what people like—or, in this case, dislike—about it and thinking again.

Order. Many Members want to contribute, so I appeal to each Member to ask one brief supplementary question.

On 15 June, for the first time ever, more Labour peers voted against the Government than with them, to close the loophole that allows tax exiles to bankroll UK political parties. Will my friend seek to reverse that vote when the Political Parties and Elections Bill comes back to the Commons, and will we get that Bill before the recess?

When the Bill comes back to this House, the Minister concerned will make the position clear, no doubt having discussed it widely with Members on both sides of the House before doing so.

Will the Leader of the House make time within the parliamentary timetable to revisit the recently imposed abolition of the de minimis rules in the Register of Members’ Interests? I have been told in all solemnity by the registrar today that in future every bunch of flowers will have to be registered. I suggest to the right hon. and learned Lady that that will result in not only my entry in the register, but those of several female Members, having more petals than the average botanical gardens. Can she make time to consider the question? Perhaps we should go with Gilbert and Sullivan: “The flowers that bloom with the speech, tra-la, have nothing to do with the case.”

There is a de minimis rule for donations, which is 1 per cent.—£650. Unless the bunch of flowers given to the right hon. Lady is worth more than £650—[Interruption.] If hon. Members will bear with me, I am trying to explain the situation. If there is a donation, a de minimis rule will apply, and I suspect that when people give her flowers, it is a donation rather than payment for services. If there is payment for services, in cash or in kind, that needs to be declared. It is quite easy for hon. Members to work out whether the item is a gift given after something has been done, or payment for services. If payment for services has taken place, there is no de minimis rule, nor should there be.

Can we have a debate on the impact of high electricity prices on manufacturing in the United Kingdom, particularly on energy-intensive industries such as aluminium smelting? UK companies are finding such prices difficult, and that is threatening UK jobs and production.

Ministers in the Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are very concerned about increased energy prices, generated particularly by the cost of oil. I will ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to write to my hon. Friend about that.

Further to the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), the new rules that come into effect next Wednesday are virtually unworkable. If I make an after-dinner speech and my wife is presented with a bouquet of flowers, those become registrable. Under the Parliamentary Standards Bill, failure to register becomes a criminal offence—and if I ask her to give them back, I will be in even deeper trouble. When will the Leader of the House reply to the letter I wrote to her on 2 June asking her to introduce a sensible de minimis threshold for that part of the register?

I think that the guidance will be workable. Obviously, we will ensure that we work closely with the registrar of financial interests to ensure that Members understand the rules clearly. There is no intention to have an unworkable system. The House supported the resolution for a register because the public are entitled to know, if Members are receiving payments for services, who is paying them and what they are paying them for.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend try to find time for a debate on the quality of advice being given to people in jobcentres, particularly in south London? I am increasingly aware that many of the new deal advisers are unaware of the services and support that they can provide to lone parents returning to work.

Department for Work and Pensions questions are on Monday, when perhaps my hon. Friend can put that question to Ministers, who are very concerned to ensure high-quality work in jobcentres.

May I say that the Conservative Members who have spoken about minimum payments are entirely right?

May I ask the Leader of the House about English Heritage’s launch yesterday of “Heritage at Risk”? It cites one in seven conservation areas as being at risk. Given the Government’s failure to bring in a heritage protection Bill last year, can we have an urgent debate on what other measures can be taken to protect listed and other buildings that are deteriorating and being demolished because of lack of action by the Government?

I will ask Ministers in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to write to the hon. Gentleman. I do not know whether any of his concerns come within the purview of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but it has questions next week.

May I congratulate the Leader of the House on recognising the strength of support for the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) yesterday, and on giving herself and the Government more time to think carefully about these matters? When she does so, will she think particularly carefully about the distinction between Government time and time that should properly be controlled by the House? Of course every Government have the right to introduce the legislation which they proposed when being elected, and should have plenty of time for that, but surely all other business is a matter for the House, including all matters of scrutiny of the Government. It is not for the Government to decide how much and what sort of time should be given to such scrutiny.

I agree with the sentiment expressed by my hon. Friend. It is important that a democratically elected Government are able to deliver on their manifesto commitments and to get their business through the House, and that the House of elected Members makes sure that that legislation is properly scrutinised and that the Government continue to be held to account. That is why I hope that the Committee, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), will be able to look across those issues.

Can we have an urgent debate on negative equity in the housing market? The recent rise in negative equity across the country has been most pronounced in Northamptonshire and the east midlands, and thousands of people are in real trouble?

Negative equity is a particular concern if people cannot afford to stay in their homes and are forced to sell them at a very low market value. That is why we have taken a range of actions to protect people from being forced into repossession, including the support for mortgage interest scheme, the homeowner mortgage support scheme, the mortgage rescue scheme, the repossession prevention fund and the mortgage pre-action protocol. Repossessions, although rising, are still way below the level in the previous recession, and we are taking all the action that we can to prevent them from rising faster.

My right hon. and learned Friend will have seen in this morning’s papers and elsewhere that energy companies—electricity and gas suppliers—are being accused of grossly overcharging their customers. It is also suggested that Ministers should have a strategy to intervene if such companies refuse to reduce their prices by the end of December. Will she ask the Minister responsible to come to the House and reveal his plans for interventions so that people in this country are not overcharged for what should rightfully be subject to a true, fair and proper price set by a regulator?

The issue is very important for industry and businesses as well as people in their own homes. I will discuss with the Minister responsible the best way to keep the House updated on Government action in this important respect.

It has emerged that the now Defence Secretary told me and the families of 14 service personnel who died aboard Nimrod XV230 that the aircraft had been made safe, despite being warned that it was impossible to be sure that that was true. We were repeatedly told that defence consultants QinetiQ agreed that the aircraft was safe to fly, despite the company warning that

“no statement can, or has been made”

to that effect. Can we have a debate in Government time to learn which version is correct?

If an hon. Member is to raise in business questions an important point on a matter of great seriousness and heartfelt concern to many individuals, it is worth giving me notice of it in advance, so that I can give a proper, fuller answer, having consulted the Minister responsible in advance. I will draw Ministers’ attention to the hon. Gentleman’s comments.

May we assume that the listening and consultation applies to Labour Members as well as to the Opposition? Does it explain the absence of the Postal Services Bill, which has not arrived in the House? Is that because Ministers have found the strength, having listened to scores, indeed hundreds, of Labour MPs, to ensure that the part-privatisation of Royal Mail does not go ahead? If that is the order of the day, well done!

On Leader of the House issues, if my hon. Friend looks at the amendments that were tabled to my motion, he will see that they are in the names of Members on both sides of the House, including on our own Labour Benches. It is a question not just of cross-party talks with Front-Bench spokesmen but of looking at all the names of hon. Members on the Order Paper, including those on our side of the House. I shall refer his comments to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

May we have a debate on the effectiveness of the NHS in managing its land assets? Putney hospital has been derelict for 10 years. At the eleventh hour, NHS London has pulled the rug on its redevelopment into badly needed GP premises. Clearly there is a general issue about bureaucracy. May we have a chance to debate that in the House?

It is always worth drawing such issues to the attention of Health Ministers in oral questions. Perhaps the hon. Lady will look for an opportunity to do that. It is very important that the NHS manages its assets, including its land assets, properly. That is even more important against a background of hundreds of millions—in fact billions—of pounds of extra investment into the NHS. That is important investment to be made to help improve that vital public service, but obviously we want to ensure that every pound is well spent.

May we have a debate in Government time about the provision of apprenticeship schemes when local authorities award contracts to the private sector? It should be incumbent on local authorities to ensure that when they award contracts to private sector companies, such companies have approved accredited apprenticeship schemes that allow apprentices to attend further education colleges. Dundee city council in my constituency has just awarded a contract to a private sector company, but we have yet to receive assurances from the separatist Scottish National party-led council that it will ensure that an apprenticeship scheme is in place.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Given how public services, in particular local government, procure services and engage in direct construction projects, they have a major opportunity to ensure that apprenticeships are provided. I know, for example, that that is very much at the centre of the work on the Olympics. I will bring his comments to the attention of the relevant Ministers and ask them to write to him.

May I draw attention to early-day motion 1739 in my name on fishermen from the Philippines who work on the west coast of Scotland?

[That this House strongly believes that the Government should quickly reconsider its policies regarding fishermen from the Philippines working in the waters around the Outer Hebrides and west coast of Scotland by establishing a six month moratorium on deportations; notes that these fishermen are not unskilled workers as they need several qualifications to engage in the fishing profession while filling a severe shortage of skilled fishing labour in the Western Isles; and further notes that deporting these fishermen will be yet another blow to the Isles as the Government is already planning to close the Hebrides Range which will result in the loss of almost 120 jobs.]

Fishermen’s leaders are calling daily to tell me that fishermen are being threatened with deportation or are not being allowed back on to their boats from the Philippines. As a result, at the time of credit crunch, boats are having to tie up. May we have a debate on the importance of beneficial immigration into the UK and, indeed, the high regard with which fishermen from the Philippines are held on the west coast of Scotland?

Given that those questions cut across the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Home Office, the hon. Gentleman might want to raise them at DEFRA questions next week.

On 14 January, Mr. Nicholas Mazordze, a constituent of mine, was promised by the UK Border Agency that his immigration case would be resolved within 28 days. It was not. On 2 May, he was promised by the UK Border Agency that it would be resolved within two weeks. It was not. In June, I raised a parliamentary question on the matter. It is still not resolved. Yesterday, I tried to ring the MPs hotline. That was unobtainable. Will the Leader of the House consider a debate on the shambolic nature of the UK Border Agency?

The overall performance of the UK Border Agency has improved over the years. I know that as the Member with the most immigration cases of anyone in the House. Certainly, the MPs hotline has been very helpful to many hon. Members over the year. However, the hon. Gentleman has a particular case, which he has now raised on the Floor of the House. I will ensure that it is brought to the attention of the Immigration Minister forthwith.

When can we have a debate on the free passage of passengers and freight vessels across the channel into Dover? Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the French unions are attempting to disrupt the passage of British flagged, British crewed ships, ridiculously describing them as operating under flags of convenience?

I will raise that with Ministers in the Foreign Office. Part of the importance of us working very closely with other countries in Europe, and making sure that Britain is central and at the heart of Europe, is to ensure that important ports such as Dover, which my hon. Friend champions, can flourish in the future.

This morning’s announcement by Consumer Focus that it has found that energy companies are not passing on the full decline in wholesale prices to consumers must be investigated. May we have an urgent statement from the Energy Minister to get to the bottom of that, as it appears that every consumer is being overcharged by an average of £74? Can we ensure that energy companies are forced to pass every penny of the decline in wholesale prices on to the consumer?

Ministers meet the energy companies regularly. As I said, I will bring to the attention of Ministers the question of reporting the latest situation to the House.

May we have a debate on the allocation of resources for the modernisation and adaptation of the homes of the elderly? My constituent Mrs. Bhanji is 86 years of age. She has Parkinson’s, she is blind, she has low mobility, but she has been waiting for more than a year for the grant to be approved. I am not apportioning blame between the Government or the local authority, but is important that we have a debate on why that takes so long.

I will draw the attention of the Minister for Housing to the points raised by my right hon. Friend.

The National Cancer Intelligence Network has today published alarming figures that show that the gap between the cancer outcomes of the over-75s in this country and those in comparable countries has widened even further. May we have a debate in Government time on why it is that the Government’s national cancer plan is failing our elderly constituents?

We recognise that there is inequality and age discrimination in the health service. That is why we have put a provision in the Equality Bill to outlaw discrimination in the provision of health services on grounds of age, which is a major step forward. In order to prepare the way for the introduction of that new tough law, a pilot is being undertaken by the Department of Health covering the whole of the South-West regional health authority and also Bristol city council. We are piloting it in advance of the Bill coming into effect in order to tackle age discrimination in the health services. It is disappointing that Opposition Members voted against the Bill on Second Reading.

By the middle of this century, four times as many older people will need care, and there is a growing funding gap in respect of the care needs of people with complex learning disabilities. Will my right hon. and learned Friend promise that when the social care Green Paper is published shortly, which addresses those incredibly difficult challenges, we will have a significant amount of time in the House to debate the ideas in it?

Everybody should be in no doubt about the importance of that agenda for the future. It is important not only for the statutory agencies, such as health and social services, but for the voluntary sector, which plays a major role in respect of those issues. It is also important for families, because the overwhelming bulk of care is provided not by agencies or voluntary services, but by family members, who need to go out to work as well as care for an older or disabled relative. I will try to ensure that we have a good opportunity to debate the Green Paper when it comes forward.

I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree that the situation in Iran is dire, with the Government there having rigged the presidential election and a number of pro-democracy demonstrators being either killed or imprisoned. She will also be aware that independent informed commentators feel that our Government could have been more robust in the defence of democracy. To put matters right, will she ensure that the Foreign Secretary comes to the House next week to make a further statement on the situation in Iran?

I know that our Government are working with other Governments to make absolutely sure that the democratic rights of the people of Iran are recognised. That is a matter of great importance to the Iranian people. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that he will have an opportunity to question Ministers in Westminster Hall on 9 July, and that the Secretary of State and Ministers will respond to oral questions on Tuesday.

Business insolvency is a serious matter, and never more so than nowadays. May we have a debate in Government time to allow us to consider how to improve returns to unsecured creditors, and also how to reduce the fees of insolvency practitioners?

I shall bring my hon. Friend’s comments to the attention of Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Perseverance obviously works in the Chamber, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I tried to catch Mr. Speaker’s eye earlier today during transport questions, but was unable to do so. With that in mind, may I ask for a debate on the rural roads network? That would allow me to raise the subject of Water End, a hamlet in my constituency which is being shaken to bits by the heavy traffic that goes through it. It was designed for horse and cart traffic, but it is now the main road between Hemel Hempstead and Leighton Buzzard. May we have a debate that would allow us to raise local issues of that kind?

The hon. Gentleman clearly has an existential problem. It seems that, as well as failing to be called during transport questions, he failed to catch Mr. Speaker’s eye during last Thursday’s debate on rural affairs. Perhaps I shall be able to suggest a further opportunity for him to put himself forward.

May we have a debate to celebrate the qualities and work of Members in all parts of the House? I am becoming increasingly disturbed by the degree of nastiness that is being directed at Members. I know that it began as a legitimate form of investigative journalism, and I have no problem with that, but it has descended into a witch hunt that is hiding from our constituents the very good work that many of us are doing, or trying to do.

I think that the way in which to address the genuine public anger about the issue of allowances is to show by our actions that we are determined to put the allowances system on a wholly independent footing—to ensure that the rules are clear, and to ensure that they are decided independently by the Parliamentary Standards Authority. I hope that that will not only assuage the public anger, but restore the respect that ought to be given to hon. Members and for this institution.

The Leader of the House may remember that during business questions on 4 June I asked for a topical debate on how we could help Pakistan and its 3 million displaced people. At the time, the right hon. and learned Lady thought that that was a good proposal. I understand from her statement today that there is a space on 9 July. May we please have the debate then?

The Foreign Secretary will answer questions in the House on Tuesday. I suggest that, as well as leaving the issue on my agenda, the hon. Gentleman raise it directly with him.

May we have a debate on corporate responsibility to our communities and, indeed, our country? My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that today hundreds of workers are on strike in power stations throughout the country. That has been caused by the action of Total, the oil company, which has brought in foreign nationals to undermine the terms and conditions of indigenous workers. May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to use her good offices and ask Total to act responsibly? If it does not, others will be encouraged to vote for extreme parties such as the British National party.

We can all well understand, against the background of a global economic crisis, the anxiety that people feel about their jobs. That is why the Government are taking every possible action to step in and protect businesses. We also hope that all parties—both sides in the dispute that my hon. Friend has mentioned—will act responsibly, and talk to each other to try to reach agreement so that work can resume.

Following discussions between the Prime Minister and Morgan Tsvangirai, the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, may we have a debate in Government time on what the British Government can do to assist Zimbabweans who want to return to their country to help to rebuild it? I am thinking particularly of the professionals who have, I understand, been identified by the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe.

It seems that the House is going to be very full for Foreign Office questions on Tuesday. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he, too, should try to catch Mr. Speaker’s eye on that occasion in order to ask the Foreign Secretary a question.

A few months ago, I mentioned to my right hon. and learned Friend the plight of charities, particularly the hospice movement, and the need for a debate on the subject. I wonder whether she has heard about the problems of Derian house, a children’s hospice in my constituency that serves children from Scotland and throughout England. It has introduced a new service, which cost well over £1 million. The money was raised locally, but the VAT has not been given back to the charity, and £350,000 must now be found. May we have a debate about the hospice movement, and about the plight of Derian house in particular?

I shall look for an opportunity for the House to debate the hospice movement; it is an important issue, and a number of Members have raised it. As for the children’s hospice in my hon. Friend’s constituency, there is no need to wait for a debate. I shall bring the matter to the attention of Health Ministers, and try to establish whether it can be resolved more promptly.

The House was elected above all to scrutinise legislation, especially legislation proposed by the Government. I hope the Leader of the House will accept that, while the Government have specified a date when a Bill will be introduced and there will be an opportunity for them to table amendments and new clauses, the scrutiny of that Bill is the business of the House. I welcome her wise decision—which is not a U-turn—to think again about the terms of reference of the Wright commission. I have two requests. First, will the Leader of the House consult members of the commission, who will have been elected by all parties in the House, on the terms of reference before returning the motion to the Order Paper? Secondly, will she open negotiations with the Opposition parties and interested Back Benchers on how her Equality Bill will be scrutinised on Report? It is an important Bill, and scrutiny of it is therefore also important.

I will do both those things. The hon. Gentleman’s point has some validity. It is usual for Government to divide the House’s work into Government and non-Government business, but the hon. Gentleman is right to point out that Government Bills are House business and the distinction is therefore somewhat artificial. I hope that the Wright commission will be able to examine those issues.

About 15 minutes ago, Corus issued a statement confirming its proposal to cut more than 2,000 jobs in its long products section, including 500 white-collar managerial jobs. Most of those jobs will be lost at the Scunthorpe works in north Lincolnshire. Given all that the work force have done to try to weather the storm and stay together during the recession, will my right hon. and learned Friend organise an urgent debate on Government support for the steel industry? Will she also ensure that the Business Secretary meets Members from the affected constituencies, along with the trade unions, so that we can do what we can to keep intact a first-rate competitive British steel industry?

The matter is of great concern to, above all, my hon. Friend’s constituents and people in neighbouring constituencies, but it is a matter of national importance as well. I shall draw what he has said to the attention of Business Ministers, and will expect them to meet him and other Members immediately to discuss this important issue.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make a further statement to the House on the circumstances that led to the collapse of the Dairy Farmers of Britain co-operative and on what has happened since? Across the north of England and throughout Wales, more than 1,500 farmers are suffering as a result of not having received their full milk cheques for May. That demands a further statement from the Secretary of State. Will the Leader of the House urge him to make one as a matter of urgency?

The Secretary of State will be answering questions in the House next week. Given that this has been such an important issue in many regions, I am sure that he will be able to account to the House for the situation then.

When the Policing and Crime Bill was in Committee in February, the two most important and controversial parts of it—on DNA databases and on anti-gang injunctions—were introduced at the very last minute during the final week, and could not be scrutinised or amended properly. On Report, we had only 40 minutes in which to discuss DNA. That makes a travesty of the idea that the House carries out democratic scrutiny of the Executive and of legislation.

In advance of the establishment of the Wright commission, will the Leader of the House make a clear statement at the Dispatch Box that in future the Government will not abuse Executive power and will not abuse programme motions, and that we shall never again see such a travesty of democratic scrutiny?

It is not long until the summer recess, and we hope to establish the Wright Committee before then. I hope that its terms of reference will include the requirement on it to report swiftly, so that these matters can be considered in the context of that Committee.

I want to test how closely the right hon. and learned Lady has been listening. I raised with her on 30 April the issue of Ministers—indeed, herself—commenting in the media about the publication of Bills before they are made available to Members of the House. Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) raised a point of order with Mr. Speaker, and the right hon. and learned Lady was in her place. Mr. Speaker said that the thrust of his remarks about Ministers coming to this House first were clear. Has the right hon. and learned Lady thought about that, and is she prepared to say that Ministers will not speak to the media about the publication of Bills until they are available to Members of this House? Mr. Speaker’s statement was very clear.

If notice is given of a ministerial statement and Members come to the House to hear that, it is very important that the first people who are able to ask questions about that statement are Members of this House, not journalists, and therefore it is important that the statement to the House comes first, before it is put into the newspapers or broadcast on radio or television. The matter of Bills is slightly different. I heard what Mr. Speaker said yesterday, and it goes without saying that what he said is, by definition, correct, but, by the time that we reach the presentation of a Bill, there has, usually, been extensive consultation. For instance, I had already made a statement to the House setting out the bones of the Parliamentary Standards Bill before the details of it were published. It is important to try to ensure that the House is respected and that it gets to hear about matters first, but in respect of the publication of Bills there has often already been a consultation process and it is not quite so easy to draw the line. Wherever the line is drawn, however, I hope that I and other Members will stay on the right side of it.

The Leader of the House is known as a great equalities champion. Therefore, may we have a debate on inequalities in the current planning system? If she lived in Wales or Scotland and someone wanted to mine an open-cast mine, they would not be able to do so if it was within 500 m of her home, but in England the designated distance is only 100 m. May we have an urgent debate to end that discrimination?

I will bring that to the attention of Ministers at the Department for Communities and Local Government.

We have our new Speaker, we will shortly have our new reform Committee, and I hope we have a new mood for change, so can we also have a debate on how new technology can be used to help Parliament better connect with the public?

The Procedure Committee has been working on the specific question of the public being able to put items on the agenda for debate and votes in this House. It produced a report on e-petitions, so it has done a lot of the groundwork on this already. Perhaps that work can be brought to fruition by the parliamentary Committee that is now being set up.

The Parliamentary Standards Bill is, by any standard, an extremely important constitutional measure, yet the deliberations on it are being confined to a mere three days. That means that there will be only 18 hours of debate before it passes through all its stages in this House. Would this House not earn a bit more respect if we delayed the rising of the House for the recess to enable the Government to give more days of debate to this extremely important Bill? By no stretch of the imagination will it be possible to debate every clause and amendment next week.

I agree that this is an important measure. What we all need to bear in mind, however, is the need for a balance between having proper scrutiny of these important measures and getting the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority set up and operating without undue delay. I think that having an opportunity to debate the issue on the Floor of the House across three days should give enough time to address what is a relatively short and focused Bill that essentially sets up the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and gives it the power to run our allowances. Debate across three days should be enough time for us to be satisfied that we have properly and thoroughly scrutinised the Bill.

May we have a statement from the Prime Minister on what he meant when he came to Southampton and told the people of Southampton and Totton in my constituency that they would decide whether or not their tap water was fluoridated? According to the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen):

“The Prime Minister's statement serves to highlight the legislative requirements contained in section 89 of the Water Industry Act 1991 whereby a strategic health authority must ‘consult and ascertain opinion’ before requesting a water undertaker to increase the fluoride content of a water supply.”—[Official Report, 22 June 2009; Vol. 494, c. 722W.]

All the MPs, including one of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet colleagues, have said that, because of lack of public support, the process should not go ahead, yet the undemocratic strategic health authority is pressing on with it. What did the Prime Minister mean when he said that the people will decide?

The strategic authorities responsible for water should come within the purview of the Regional Select Committees and the Regional Grand Committee. I hope the hon. Gentleman will play his part on the Regional Committee in holding them to account, and that he will raise fluoridation with the relevant Ministers, namely Health Ministers as well as the Prime Minister.

The equipment that keeps our armed forces safe on the front line is developed and manufactured in the United Kingdom, based on research carried out by the Ministry of Defence and its agencies. Unfortunately, the Government have decided this year to cut the MOD research budget by 7 per cent. and are planning a year-on-year cut in that research all the way up to the Olympics and beyond. May we have an urgent debate before we break up, given that our forces will be on operations while we are in recess, so that we can hold Defence Ministers to account for, perhaps, putting some of our soldiers at risk by cutting this budget?

We do not underestimate at all the importance of research and science, and of investing in that. In fact, although we account for only 1 per cent. of the world’s population, we generate 5 per cent. of the world’s science and research. This country is at the forefront of science and research, therefore, and the Government have made sure that we invest in it across the board. I know that there has been a great deal of extra investment in the MOD. I do not know whether some of this research has been mainstreamed into other parts of the research community, but I will bring the hon. Gentleman’s points to the attention of MOD Ministers.

The House will be aware that foreign students who have applied to study at UK universities are now withdrawing those applications in droves because they cannot negotiate the new and impossible visa application system. As a consequence, universities will be in financial distress because of the loss of fees that they had been expecting from foreign students. Will the Leader of the House find an appropriate Minister to make a statement to the House, as this matter falls between the stools of two Departments? We must provide some triage for this year, and make sure that changes are made to guard against a permanent loss of foreign students from the UK education system.

The hon. Lady is right that foreign students are a very important part of our further and higher education system, but they are also important for our economic prospects as students from all around the world are familiar with Britain from having studied here. I am sure that action on the issues the hon. Lady has raised is already in hand, but I will get the Minister to write to her.