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Business of the House

Volume 501: debated on Thursday 3 December 2009

The business for next week will be:

Monday 7 December—Second Reading of the Energy Bill.

Tuesday 8 December—Opposition Day (1st Allotted Day). There will be a debate on disability benefits for the elderly followed by a debate on local government finance settlement and council tax. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Wednesday 9 December—Statement on the pre-Budget report followed by remaining stages of the Child Poverty Bill.

Thursday 10 December—Estimates Day (1st Allotted Day). There will be a debate on students and universities and a debate on the relationship between central and local government. Details will be given in the Official Report.

[The details are as follows: Students and universities; 11th Report of the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee of Session 2008-09 HC 170; Government Response—8th Special Report of Session 2008-09, HC 991. The Balance of Power: Central and Local Government; 6th Report form the Communities and Local Government Committee of Session 2008-09, HC33; Government Response—Cm 7712.]

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

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

Monday 14 December—Second Reading of the Personal Care at Home Bill followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Tuesday 15 December—Second Reading of the Flood and Water Management Bill followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the Welsh language.

Wednesday 16 December—Motion on the Christmas Recess Adjournment.

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the forthcoming business.

I make no apologies for repeating my call, supported by others, for debates on the pre-Budget report and on Afghanistan. Last week the right hon. and learned Lady offered the fiscal responsibility Bill as providing the right opportunity to debate next week’s PBR, but that Bill is not even scheduled to have a Second Reading before Christmas. On Afghanistan, she said some weeks ago that she was “sympathetic” to the idea of a debate, but she has given no firm commitment since. The whole country is talking about these issues except the House, and it is indefensible for her not to provide time for debates. May I make a suggestion? Against the wishes of Conservative Members, the Government are proposing that the House should rise on 16 December. If she cannot find time for those two debates, will she postpone the Christmas recess by just two days so that the House can have the time that it wishes to debate the state of our economy and the welfare of our troops?

May we have a statement by the right hon. and learned Lady on the Prime Minister’s claim yesterday that Britain is not the last country in the G20 to leave recession? He clearly stated:

“Spain is a member of the G20 now and it is in recession.”—[Official Report, 2 December 2009; Vol. 501, c. 1101.]

Given that Britain has been chairing that group all year, he should know that Spain is not a member. Does she believe that the Prime Minister ought to correct his mistake and confirm for the record that Britain is indeed the last country in the G20 to exit recession, or does he not do apologies?

Will the right hon. and learned Lady give us a statement on her handling of the Equality Bill yesterday? As the Opposition repeatedly warned, the time allocated for debate was wholly insufficient. Five groups of amendments, including several Government new clauses, were sent to the other place without any scrutiny. Last week, she told us that the Solicitor-General had tabled all Government amendments a week before Report, but what use is that if there is no time to debate them? It is disappointing that the Leader of the House has not shown more leadership when it comes to her own legislation. What proposals does she have to prevent that from happening again?

May I ask yet again when the Leader of the House will give us the dates for the Easter recess? She chose not to respond to my question about that last week. Why is that particular recess causing such irreconcilable difficulties?

What has happened to our topical debates? Today we have had a summary, as a written statement, of the debates that we have had, but we have had no topical debates for more than a month and no indication of when the next one will be. What has happened to them?

May we have a statement on the appointment of the EU’s Economic Commissioner? For weeks the Prime Minister lobbied furiously in Brussels to secure the top post for Tony Blair, and only got his fourth choice as the new High Representative. Meanwhile, the French have quietly assumed control of the internal market, with President Sarkozy gloating that the British are “the big losers”. Yesterday, the Chancellor caved in to a decision to establish three EU supervisory authorities for financial services. Given those developments, will the right hon. and learned Lady ensure that the Minister replying to this afternoon’s debate on Europe will respond to the growing concern about the threat to one of the country’s main generators of wealth and employment?

Finally, will the right hon. and learned Lady join me in condemning the Prime Minister for launching a class war against those with aristocratic connections who were educated at public school?

The right hon. Gentleman asks for a debate on the pre-Budget report, and he was consistent in asking for that on behalf of the House even before he became shadow Leader of the House. I can tell him that there will be a full day’s debate on the pre-Budget report, which will be announced shortly, so we have accepted the representations that he started making when he was on the Back Benches and has now brought to the Front Bench.

As far as the very important question of Afghanistan is concerned, as Leader of the House I take it very much as my responsibility to ensure that the House is informed regularly about the situation, and that does happen. I ensure that there is an opportunity to debate it at large and hold Ministers to account, and that every week that this House is sitting, there is an opportunity for a debate on Afghanistan. [Hon. Members: “What?”] I ensure that there is an opportunity for the House to be informed and hold Ministers to account, or to debate the matter. The country expects Afghanistan to be right at the top of the House’s agenda, and it certainly is. May I say what an honour and privilege it was yesterday to attend the remembrance celebration in Belfast cathedral for those from 19 Light Brigade?

I turn to the right hon. Gentleman’s points about the recession and the G20. I understand that Spain is in the G20 plus, so the Prime Minister was absolutely right on that point. This Government have taken action to protect the economy in the face of a global financial crisis. As a country that has a large financial services sector that goes back decades, of course we are particularly affected by a crisis in that industry. Of course, as a trading nation, we would be affected by a global crisis that has reduced trade. The truth is that this Prime Minister has not only protected our economy from recession, but actually shaped the international approach, which has made sure that the country goes forward. I must say that had it been left to the policies of the official Opposition, we would not even be beginning to come out of recession, which is what we are doing at the moment—we are moving into recovery.

It is important that the Equality Bill received proper scrutiny from the House. May I just reiterate what happened? The Joint Committee on Human Rights scrutinised the Bill and did a report on it, as did the Select Committee on Work and Pensions. There were 38 hours of scrutiny in Committee, leaving aside evidence taken from the public as part of the Public Bill Committee hearings. There were two Select Committees, then 38 hours in Committee. Report stage is one day in this House unless major new policy is introduced, but no major new policy was introduced between Committee and Report.

I am sure that this will be a disappointment to Opposition Back Benchers, but there was no Front-Bench request for an extra day on Report until the business was announced—[Interruption.]

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Leader of the House, but there is far too much sedentary wittering taking place on the Opposition Benches, both from the Liberal Democrats and from the Conservatives. The Leader of the House must be heard. I want to make progress and I want to get everybody in.

I totally agree with you, Mr. Speaker. There is much too much sedentary wittering—it should be for me to witter at the Dispatch Box. I am still on my third point about scrutiny and I have many more to go.

There was no new policy in the Government amendments or new clauses. The Equality Bill will now go to the Lords, who will scrutinise it, and any amendments will come back to us. I pay a warm tribute to the Ministers—the Solicitor-General and the Parliamentary Secretary, Government Equalities Office—who took this very important Bill through the House. The Opposition tabled an amendment declining to give the Equality Bill a Second Reading and abstained on Third Reading. The Tories are not and never will be the party of equality.

We have not even got to the Christmas recess, so I do not know why the shadow Leader of the House keeps on asking about the Easter recess. I thought he was against recesses, yet he keeps calling on me to announce the Easter recess. It will happen all in good time and in due course.

As far as the European Commissioner is concerned, we have to work together with our European partners to make sure that we have proper financial regulation across Europe and across the world as a whole, but of course the Financial Services Authority is accountable to this House and we have our own domestic regulation. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there will be a debate about European affairs this afternoon, when hon. Members can discuss our excellent position, in having the very best Foreign Secretary we could have, the very best Business Secretary we could have, and a really excellent foreign representative for the European Commission in the shape of Cathy Ashton.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about class war. May I just say that clause 1 of the Equality Bill, which we introduced, puts a new duty on public authorities to narrow the gap between rich and poor? The Conservatives voted against that. We have put up the top rate of tax for those who can most afford to pay, to help us with the deficit as we come out of recession. The Conservatives are opposed to that and instead are just putting forward tax cuts for the richest. Theirs is truly the party for the few, and we are the party for the many.

Why is the Leader of the House not giving the House time before Christmas, given the urgency, to discuss the recommendations of the Select Committee on Reform of the House of Commons—the Wright Committee? It is not a matter of waiting for a Government response. We are interested not in what the Government have to say about the reform of the House of Commons, but in what this House has to say. Will she consider that as a matter of urgency?

May we have a debate on the banking sector, particularly those banks that are actually owned by the people of this country? I note that members of the board of the Royal Bank of Scotland wish to resign if they are not allowed to pay extraordinarily large amounts of money to people in their company. May I say that there is nobody standing in their way, and this House should have the opportunity to say so?

I am tired of asking for a proper debate on Afghanistan, but I hope that we will have one in the very near future. May I also ask for a debate on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, which worries hon. Members on both sides of the House?

May we have a statement on care homes? I was fortunate enough to open a newly refurbished home for elderly people with dementia in my constituency last week, and I am very conscious of the good work that so many care homes do. However, we should be concerned when we read reports of standards not being as good in some parts of the country. May we have a statement on that issue?

I entirely agree that we should not have a class war. When I hear people say that those with double-barrelled names should shorten them for the benefit of the electorate, it really upsets me. But we should have a debate on non-domiciled tax status, especially as it applies to Members of this House and the other place, and would-be Members. It is very important that we show that taxes are not just something paid by other people.

Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, for which we finally set up the board last night, is now a public body subject to freedom of information legislation?

The hon. Gentleman asks about the report on parliamentary reform. That is an important report and its complexity deserves detailed consideration and a proper response from the Government, which it will get. I do not want hon. Members to get the impression that the situation is anything other than as follows: my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) proposed to me that it would be a good idea to set the Committee up and that it could make far-reaching proposals. I welcomed that suggestion and took it forward. Indeed, I brought the proposal for the Committee to the House. It has done very important work and its members can be sure that that work will be carried through.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the banks. It is important for the economy that the banks lend, and there is still too much evidence that businesses, big and small, are not getting the finances they need. The Government are going after the banks to ensure that they fulfil their responsibilities to the economy and start to lend. Also, they must pay back the loans that they have been given—and that is under way—and they should exercise restraint on bonuses. The Government have been clear about that.

As far as Afghanistan is concerned, in the business of the House—be it Prime Minister’s questions, Defence questions, general debates or statements—Afghanistan is at the top of the agenda of this House of Commons, and rightly so.

The hon. Gentleman asked for a topical debate on Gaza, and the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) asked about topical debates in general. Topical debates will be announced shortly, and I will take that as a representation. In fact, other hon. Members have asked for topical debates on issues to do with the middle east and Gaza, so we may look forward to that being a subject.

The hon. Gentleman asked about care homes and mentioned the importance of the care of the elderly. That is important not only in residential care homes, but in their own homes. He will have heard me announce the Second Reading of the Personal Care at Home Bill, and we have all been concerned that some councils have been identified as not caring properly for adults—providing only “adequate” care, when we all want really good care for the elderly and vulnerable adults. That is what they need, and that is what their relatives want. I am very concerned that Southwark council has been identified as one of those councils providing care that is only adequate. Instead of protesting about the findings against it, it should be buckling down to address the concerns that have been identified.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about non-domiciled tax status. The old saying is “No taxation without representation.” Perhaps we should turn that around and say, “No representation without taxation.” People who seek to enter the House and levy taxes should show that they are prepared to pay those taxes. It is not appropriate for anybody to think that they can enter the House and make others pay taxes that they decide not to pay themselves. However, that is for the Conservative party to sort out, not me.

The chair and chief executive of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority are in place already and getting on with their work. They are getting down to it expeditiously and in a way that the House would want them to do. We passed the resolution last night, and like all other public authorities, they will be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Order. Twenty-eight hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. As usual, I should like to accommodate everybody, so I issue my usual appeal for single, short questions and comparably brief replies.

A few weeks ago, the Contaminated Blood (Support for Infected and Bereaved Persons) Bill received its First Reading in another place. Will the Minister say when it is likely to appear on the Floor of this House?

Lord Morris’s Bill has had its First Reading in the other place, and the Second Reading is scheduled for 11 December. I am sure that my hon. Friend will watch its progress with great interest and concern, as we all will. I know how important the issue is to her and her constituents, whom she has supported tirelessly on that important issue.

May we have a debate on the application of Criminal Records Bureau checks and what might be the law of unintended consequences? I have a sad constituency case involving a 13-year-old boy who was found guilty of a sexual offence. As a result his ambition to become a teacher has been completely crushed, because the offence will have to be declared in any application that he makes. However wrong it was to commit the offence, it seems wrong that a 13-year-old boy should have his life chances so affected and have to face the resulting psychological damage.

The situation is being dealt with under legislation passed by the House. Sexual offending is often a repeat offence, which is why we have a system of registration. No doubt cases such as that of the hon. Lady’s constituent will be caught by the law, but that law was passed by the House.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for the Chancellor to make a statement, to the House and the general public, confirming that no barriers in any shape or form will be placed before directors of the Royal Bank of Scotland who choose to resign over not getting a bonus?

I agree with my hon. Friend that they already earn vast salaries, and now they are threatening to resign if they cannot indulge in largesse and the distribution of massive bonuses to top executives across the piece. I think that there will be much sympathy for what he said.

Rarely a weekend surgery goes by when I do not see at least one, if not two or three, Child Support Agency cases, even after all these years and with all the reforms. One constituent has not received any money for more than five years, and others are paying far too much. May we have a proper debate on the workings of the CSA so that we can come forward with proper reforms that will affect everybody and be fair to everyone?

The CSA has such important work to do because too many non-residential parents—mostly fathers—do not show themselves willing to support their children. That is the major problem; it is not the work of the agency. The fundamental problem is men who have children but are not prepared to pay for them and resist doing so. That is why the work of the CSA is very important. If the hon. Gentleman wants to ensure further scrutiny of its work, perhaps he can seek a Westminster Hall debate.

May we have an early debate on what the Government are doing to maximise British ownership and employment in the manufacturing industry, particularly in light of the hostile takeover bid of Cadbury, in my constituency, and other proposed takeovers? Cadbury is not a lame duck, but a thriving business with excellent growth prospects.

I shall bring that point, which is very important to my hon. Friend’s constituents, to the attention of the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, and ask him to liaise with her directly.

Next year will see the first application for one of the new nuclear power stations in my constituency. Under the new rules, there is not a problem with the actual power station, but I have a question about the infrastructure that feeds it—the roads, park-and-ride, hostels and the rest of it. We cannot work out—the Government are giving mixed signals—whether that is included in the application. May we have a debate to clear that up before the first application, which will be one of many, and to avoid long-term problems?

I shall ask the relevant Minister to write to the hon. Gentleman with a specific reply. I am not sure which Minister will be dealing with it, but I shall find out. Next Monday, there will be an energy debate on the Second Reading of the Energy Bill, and there are Communities and Local Government questions next week as well, so he will have the opportunity to raise that point directly.

Does the Leader of the House recall that when the miners went on strike in order to protect the pits, they were denounced as traitors in the press? Does this morning’s action by the bankers remind her of that? Can we expect a similar condemnation? Furthermore, those precious, self-centred people need to be brought here and cautioned for what they are saying about their position. They are blackmailing the Government.

I am happy to condemn those who do not recognise that people expect banks to play their part in the economy, to lend to businesses, to pay back the money they needed because they nearly fell off the edge of a cliff as a result of recklessness and irresponsibility, and not, at the back end of it, to award themselves massive bonuses. I agree with my hon. Friend.

In business questions on 25 June, I asked the Leader of the House:

“Will she open negotiations with the Opposition parties and interested Back Benchers on how her Equality Bill will be scrutinised on Report”?

She replied:

“I will do both those things.”—[Official Report, 25 June 2009; Vol. 494, c. 962.]

On 2 July, she said:

“We will not be going through the motions of consulting…we will actually consult”.—[Official Report, 2 July 2009; Vol. 495, c. 488.]

On 16 July, she said that

“we will want to ensure that we make the Bill an exemplar of how the House should scrutinise Bills on Report”.—[Official Report, 16 July 2009; Vol. 496, c. 456.]

Will the Leader of the House accept that, instead of gaining a reputation as the destroyer of scrutiny, she should think about how we can have proper parliamentary scrutiny of Government Bills on Report? Will she accept the recommendations of the Wright report in that respect?

We will, I think, be taking forward the Wright report recommendations. As I said, the Equality Bill had the full scrutiny of the House. It spent 38 hours in Committee, and it has been calculated that the hon. Gentleman spoke for 20 of them, so he knows that he has played his part in scrutinising the Bill. I commend him on doing so, but it is not right to say that the Bill has not been substantially scrutinised.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend make time for a debate on primary care trusts, such as that in Bolton, which spend huge amounts of public money? The Secretary of State for Health refuses to answer questions on PCTs, but in my view, they should be open to scrutiny by Parliament?

I shall ask the Secretary of State for Health to respond to my hon. Friend’s request. We are accountable for, and concerned about, the delivery to everybody and in every part of the country, and about not only first-rate hospital services, but good PCT and general practitioner services.

May I reinforce the two Front-Bench requests for a debate on Afghanistan? On Monday, I put it to the Prime Minister that we should have an amendable motion, on which we can vote, to be debated before 28 January. The Prime Minister replied:

“Of course, if Members of the House want to debate these things in more detail, it is right that we should do so”.—[Official Report, 30 November 2009; Vol. 501, c. 851.]

We know that the Liberal Democrats and my party want to debate that in detail and that the country wants us to do so. May we please have the debate?

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman has reminded the House, the Prime Minister responded on those issues not only in Prime Minister’s Question Time on Wednesday, but in a statement. However, as hon. Members made clear, neither was a debate, and I shall look for an opportunity to hold one as well.

Is it time for my right hon. and learned Friend to speak to the Prime Minister and ensure that we hold a national jobs summit to protect manufacturing jobs? Other European countries have strengthened their support for manufacturing in their countries, and the time has come to do the same here. Unemployment is a blight on this country. We must do something about it, and we can through a national jobs summit. I look forward to her response.

When the Prime Minister convened the G20 summit in London earlier this year, jobs, manufacturing and how we all work together to protect them was very much at the heart of his concerns. The National Economic Council, which he established, meets on a weekly basis and always has jobs—and particularly manufacturing jobs—high on the agenda for discussion. That includes not only jobs in traditional industries such as the automotive industry, which has benefited from the car scrappage scheme, but green jobs and jobs in new industries such as environmental engineering. Such jobs are always very much at the forefront of our concerns.

In warmly welcoming the Leader of the House’s announcement that there will be a debate on the pre-Budget report, may I ask her to clear up one query? As there is always such a debate, why was she not able to say that there would be one in previous weeks? The reason cannot be her lack of competence. Could it be that the Prime Minister micro-manages everything so much that she is not allowed to observe the obvious in advance and save us all a lot of time?

The pre-Budget report is a relatively recent innovation. Although it is a long-standing practice to have such a debate after the Budget, it has not been the long-standing practice to have one after the pre-Budget report. However, we agree that there needs to be one this time round, and there will be.

In the previous Session I introduced a presentation Bill on financial disclosure. With the announcement that there is an Opposition candidate standing who is a non-dom, and with some question marks over at least one Peer who may or may not be resident in this country, is it not time that the Government looked at the issue properly, as the Liberal Democrat spokesman said, to see whether it should be a criminal offence to stand for Parliament yet refuse to pay full tax in this country?

As my hon. Friend will probably know, Sir Christopher Kelly’s report for the Committee on Standards in Public Life asked for pre-election disclosure by candidates of their financial interests. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice is in discussions with the Electoral Commission and will issue guidance on the matter, as suggested by Sir Christopher Kelly, in advance of putting that into legislation. However, my hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is not good enough to say, “Well, I haven’t been paying my taxes up to now, but if I manage to get elected, I’ll probably change my tax status.” That is unacceptable, and the issue is particularly acute for Members of this House, because it is this House that passes the Finance Bill and decides to raise taxes. We therefore cannot have people who expect just the little people—everybody else—to pay their taxes.

The Leader of the House will be aware that sections of the media are covering the issue of libel tourism, which is something that Ministers will have to judge on its merits. [Interruption.] Yes, Libel tourism. However, has she noticed that the issue of no win, no fee methods of compensation for lawyers involved in such cases has been added to the wish list? Does she agree that we are talking about a system of justice that vast swathes of people are entitled to have access to? Will she agree to a debate on the issue, to ensure that the baby does not get thrown out with the bathwater?

No win, no fee was introduced to alleviate pressure on the legal aid budget and to ensure that those with a good case were not prevented from going forward because they did not have the finances. I will look into the hon. Gentleman’s point about libel tourism and raise it with the Secretary of State for Justice, although I thought that he was talking about “library tourism”, which I thought was another marvellous step forward for the tourist industry.

The reign of King James I was not exactly studded with too many glittering achievements, but he did make a major social, spiritual and cultural contribution to our nation with the authorised version of the Bible, which was first published in 1611. Does the Leader of the House know whether the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport aims to make a statement on how we will mark the 400th anniversary? The 2011 Trust is working hard, the BBC has said that it will mark the occasion, online and on TV and radio. We as a nation expect our Government to do so as well.

Will the Leader of the House take the opportunity to find out why the Christmas tree fell down on Monday morning? Did the contractor put the Christmas tree in properly, and should we expect some compensation for the new contract that had to be put in place to put it back up again?

I am sorry, but I was not aware that the Christmas tree had fallen down. I would say to hon. Members that, if they are going to ask such questions and expect informative answers, perhaps they could at least let me know in advance. My room is just around the corner from the Chamber, so it is easy to find me and report any emergencies such as falling Christmas trees.

Any recession impacts severely on young people and school leavers, particularly unskilled school leavers. The Government have been focused on providing a series of measures to help young people in this recession, but for one group it is almost impossible to get a job or even an apprenticeship place. That group is young people in supported housing, where the level of housing benefit makes it not worth their while to go into work. Can we have a debate about the impact of the September guarantees that the Government provided for this year’s school leavers and, in particular, about the remaining anomalies in the benefits system that make it hard for young people in supported housing?

I thank my hon. Friend for acknowledging the mass of concerted Government action that has gone into protecting this generation of young people from the effects of the recession. If a recession hits people at a certain stage in their lives, it can have lifelong effects on their prospects. That is what happened in previous recessions, which is why we were determined not to let it happen to this generation of young people. It is Department for Work and Pensions questions next week. I suggest that my hon. Friend raise his important point about the interaction of benefits and other programmes with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when she answers at the Dispatch Box then.

Last week in business questions the Deputy Leader of the House, ably coached by the right hon. and learned Lady, listed the achievements of the Modernisation Committee as, inter alia, topical debates and deferred Divisions. Could the organ grinder explain how non-controversial topical debates, the subjects of which are chosen by the Executive, help to hold the Executive to account, and how deferred Divisions contribute to better scrutiny? Can she also say when we will have a debate on parliamentary reform and the Wright report?

The Deputy Leader of the House has tabled a written ministerial statement today setting out the requests that we received for topical debates and the subjects of those debates. The hon. Gentleman will see that, by and large, virtually all topical debates were chosen as a result of requests from Back Benchers or Opposition Front Benchers, so the idea that we sit there deciding what to discuss in topical debates is frankly wrong. Just one debate had not been the subject of such requests—a debate about carers—and that was because the outside carers’ organisations had put in a request for a debate. I also think it very rude and unwarranted of the hon. Gentleman to make disparaging remarks about my hon. Friend, who is an excellent Deputy Leader of the House, so he can say sorry to her afterwards.

Ofsted gave three stars to Haringey just before the tragic news of the baby P case; the rating was dropped to just one star on a further inspection. The same goes for Basildon hospital foundation trust, although how it got that rating we do not know, because the Care Quality Commission then dropped it. May we have a debate in the House on how to inspect the inspectors?

Investing extra money in public services, having high standards and holding services to account for those standards lie at the heart of our commitment to those services; we are making investments, setting targets, giving guarantees and requiring public services to be held to account for them. The inspection regimes across health, social services and education are very important. I will look into how best to ensure that the House can scrutinise them.

Can we have a debate on the unintended damage caused by school league tables? League tables give a perverse incentive to schools not to stretch the people at the very top properly or focus sufficiently on those at the very bottom, but instead to concentrate all their resources on the borderline students. Surely schools should be encouraged to allow children to reach their full potential irrespective of their ability.

It is important that school-by-school information should be collected, so that parents can see how schools as a whole are progressing. It is also right that the results for each child are regularly communicated to their parents. All those are regimes to improve education that we have put in place. We are in favour of that accountability and in favour of extra investment in education. However, we are also in favour of ensuring that schools are held to account for improving children’s results as a consequence of that extra education, which is exactly what they are doing. Indeed, those on the hon. Gentleman’s Front Bench are also in favour of league tables and holding schools to account; they are just not in favour of putting in the investment that we have put in.

This country has unique responsibility for Zimbabwe. I have requested a topical debate on that subject on many occasions, so will the Leader of the House provide time for such a debate before Christmas?

The hon. Gentleman has very much made his point clear and I know that his concerns are shared by many people. His concern is strongly registered.

The Leader of the House used the Personal Care at Home Bill to deflect the very reasonable request made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). Does she not share my outrage at the finding of the Care Quality Commission’s report, published today, into the state of some of our care homes and the fact that thousands of elderly and frail people are left in truly squalid conditions? Does she not think it should be a priority to debate this specific issue in Government time?

I think that it is important that this issue be subject to discussion, debate and scrutiny. I will consider how best to do that, but as far as the individual authorities are concerned, they will certainly need to look at how they can improve their services. There are a number of occasions—two next week, an Opposition day and an estimates day—when the question of local authority provision and the work of local authorities, which touches on the issue, can be debated.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister yet again damaged his serious message on terrorism by insisting on referring to something he always calls “Alky-Ada”. Today, he is in trouble again over a botched letter of condolence to a bereaved service family. Given that the armed forces serve the Crown and not politicians, may we have a statement from a Constitutional Affairs Minister, confirming that it would be more appropriate if the Prime Minister kept out of letters of condolence to bereaved service families and this were left, as it traditionally has been left, to the monarch?

As well as being the Prime Minister of this country, the Prime Minister is a human being who understands the dreadful bereavement of those who have lost a child. Indeed, when he has written to those families, he has written privately and has not sought to put those letters in the public domain. I really think that the hon. Gentleman, for whom I generally speaking have a great deal of respect, should not have put that question in that way. It does not help our troops, it does not help the terrible loss of bereaved families—and it does not help his party either.

I echo the calls of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) for a debate on the Care Quality Commission. Only this week, a report—a secret report on the Eccleshill independent treatment centre—was made public, yet the Care Quality Commission is now saying that this very meticulous and damning report is wrong. I am afraid that the credibility of the CQC is seriously undermined, and with all the cases that we have now heard, we need to debate it.

The question of caring for people at home and in residential care is important, so I hope that we can find an opportunity to debate these issues over the next week and the week after that. I will keep under review the question of whether we need a topical debate, and decide at the appropriate time.

Could we have a debate on Iran? While media attention has focused on the fate of the recently detained British sailors—I congratulate the Foreign Office on helping to secure a positive result—what has not been widely reported is the fact that President Ahmadinejad of Iran has effectively withdrawn all co-operation with the United Nations on working to resolve the nuclear issue. Given that the US Administration have given until the end of the year to try to move forward in a positive way, we are now running out of time to ensure that measures are put in place to bring this to an end. Could we please make this a priority and have at least a statement from the Foreign Secretary before we rise for Christmas, because time is running out?

I will ask my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to write to the hon. Gentleman. We all agree with his welcome for the release of the British sailors and with his thanks to the consular officials involved in bringing that about. We would all also share his concern. Iran has been offered the opportunity of positive international engagement, as the hon. Gentleman says, but if it does not take that opportunity and it continues to pose a threat, the international community will obviously have to act on that concern, which could go as far as toughening up sanctions. As I said, I will ask the Foreign Secretary to write to the hon. Gentleman.

The Government must not give in to the demands from the directors of the Royal Bank of Scotland for well- cushioned bonuses. Most of my constituents would say good riddance to them if they decided to resign in protest. Will the Leader of the House ensure that if the Chancellor caves in, he will make a statement about it on the Floor of the House?

I find it striking when I hear such sentiments, with which I can only agree, from the hon. Gentleman, as his party is the party of no regulation and of giving extra money to those who have already got shedloads of it.

Flooding has seriously affected not just parts of Cumbria and other areas of England, but areas in Northern Ireland, particularly in County Fermanagh, which does not have a voice in this House on account of the abstention of its Sinn Fein Member of Parliament. Speaking on behalf of people living there and in other areas represented by Sinn Fein, may I ask the Leader of the House for a debate or a statement on the possibilities of assistance from the EU to help areas affected by the flooding? What additional help can be given?

We are having a debate on EU affairs as soon as business questions are concluded. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe is in his place on the Front Bench waiting to start on that. There is also a debate on the Flood and Water Management Bill on Tuesday 15 December. Let me take the opportunity to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham), who has worked with the Government, local authorities and the emergency services on behalf of the many families in his constituency who have had an absolutely terrible time. Even though they are no longer at the top of the news, we are all thinking of them, as it is cold there and the rain has started again. They are very much not forgotten. We are working to support them.

Last night, we had the unedifying sight of the Liberal party trying to delay the setting up of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority by using a parliamentary procedure to delay debate and stop a vote. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate next week entitled “The Liberal Democrat party: neither Liberal nor Democratic”?

We had a big furore about that yesterday, so we do not need a repeat of it today. The point is that IPSA has been set up and is now going to get on with its job. I wish it well.