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Business of the House

Volume 520: debated on Thursday 9 December 2010

The business for the week commencing 13 December will be:

Monday 13 December—Second Reading of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.

Tuesday 14 December—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Superannuation Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc. Bill [Lords], followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Identity Documents Bill.

Wednesday 15 December—Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Loans to Ireland Bill, followed by a motion to approve the ninth report 2010-11 from the Standards and Privileges Committee.

Thursday 16 December—Motion relating to park homes, followed by a motion on the work of the Public Accounts Committee. The subjects for both debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

The provisional business for the week commencing 20 December will include:

Monday 20 December—General debate on firearms control.

Tuesday 21 December—Pre-recess Adjournment debate, the format of which has been specified by the Backbench Business Committee.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 13 and 20 January 2011 will be:

Thursday 13 January—A debate on the impact of the comprehensive spending review on the Department of Health.

Thursday 20 January—A general debate on anti-Semitism.

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for his statement. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when we can expect the localism Bill to be introduced? Two weeks ago, he said it would appear “shortly”. On the same day, the Minister for decentralisation, the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), said it would be published “imminently”. Last week, the Leader of the House said it would appear “very shortly”. However, having searched high and low for this shy and retiring Bill, I can find no sign of it. In a week that has been full of difficulty for the Government, is this Bill yet another little local difficulty that they have not been able to resolve?

May we have a statement on press reports published this week that impostors have been seeking to gain access to the parliamentary estate? It is now clear that a number of individuals seeking jobs here have claimed to be die-hard opponents of lifting the cap on tuition fees, but have turned out to be the very opposite of what they said they were. What can the Leader of the House do to protect us from these potential double agents?

Has the Leader of the House made any progress on getting the Prime Minister to make his much anticipated apology to head teachers and school sports co-ordinators for his disgraceful attack on what they do? When will the heavily signalled U-turn arrive, or is it stuck in a queue behind the localism Bill?

Talking about trust in politics, can we have a debate on the subject? I ask because it is not just the Deputy Prime Minister who has been breaking his promises in recent weeks; it has been the Prime Minister, too—on VAT, child benefit, 3,000 more midwives, no spending cuts to front-line services, the knife crime pledge and education maintenance allowances. On 6 January, at a Cameron Direct event, the Prime Minister said in answer to a question on EMAs that

“we don’t have any plans to get rid of them.”

Two months later, on 2 March, the Education Secretary was even clearer:

“Ed Balls keeps saying that we are committed to scrapping the EMA. I have never said this. We won’t.”

What are our young people, many of whom are watching our proceedings today, to make of such behaviour? Did the Prime Minister and the Education Secretary believe what they were saying or not? Either way, it is no wonder that so many young people think, “Well, if that’s the new politics, you can forget it.”

In case the Liberal Democrats think that they can tell us—if they are courageous enough to put their heads above the parapet today—that the Government’s tuition fee proposals will increase social mobility, may we have a statement confirming that scrapping EMAs will make it more difficult for young people from low-income backgrounds even to get to the starting gate of higher education? To make matters worse, the coalition is also destroying the Aimhigher programme, which is all about social mobility.

Turning to this afternoon’s debate, even with a 6-minute limit on speeches, very many Members will not get the chance to represent their constituents today. For a long time now, we have been told that there will be no up-front fees. We have been told that all students will pay back at the same rate according to how much they earn. This week, the Business Secretary and the Deputy Prime Minister told their party that the proposals will not put anyone off going to university. If that is the case, can we have a statement on why the Government are proposing that some students from the least well-off households will not have to pay fees in their first year? Either the Government believe what they have been saying—in which case, why make this proposal?—or they have finally accepted what we have been saying about students being put off, in which case their whole argument collapses. We need an answer.

Is it any wonder that thousands of young people are now standing outside Parliament demanding a say on their future, while MPs from both Government parties are scurrying around hiding from them? They were promised a fair system for their higher education, only to discover that this coalition Government, with the support of Liberal Democrats, is about to let them down—and they will not forget it.

I said last week that the gestation period for the localism Bill has been a little longer than anticipated. It is now being delivered at high speed to the parliamentary birth centre by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. As I said last week, I hope that it will be before the House well before Christmas.

On the second issue, the right hon. Gentleman bangs on about the position of the Liberal Democrats on tuition fees, but the Liberal Democrats got their Front Benchers behind a policy on this before the Labour party did. They got themselves organised on Tuesday, but it was not until yesterday that the shadow Chancellor claimed in an article in The Times that there was

“a strong case for a graduate tax”.

I have to say that it is he who is a member of the coalition parties when it comes to tuition fees and funding higher education.

The Government will be delivering school sports, but in a different way from the previous Government; instead of having a centralised PE and sports strategy, we want to redeploy resources and people, putting a new emphasis on competitive sport. In answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s specific question, we will be announcing how we will spend the money we have allocated for school sport in due course.

On the education maintenance allowance, we are committed to ensuring that every young person remains in education and training until they are 18. Evidence shows that about 90% of EMA spending goes to students who would have stayed in education anyway. There was an enormous amount of dead-weight. We are replacing the EMA with targeted support for those who face genuine financial barriers to participation.

As for the time allowed for the debate, I think that the right hon. Gentleman is losing his touch. Last Thursday, when I announced the debate, his only question was on when we would have sight of the text on the Government’s proposals. That small spark of interest developed into the conflagration that we saw last night. A business of the House motion was tabled on Friday last week. He could have amended that motion, but the Opposition did not get around to amending it until the debate was well under way and it was far too late. On one of the key issues facing this Parliament, the shadow Leader of the House has been caught asleep at the wheel.

On the other issues that the right hon. Gentleman addressed, those will be the subject of the debate that is about to take place.

May I ask the Leader of the House to find time for a debate on expanding cadet schemes so that young people can do cadet service not only with the police, the Army, the Navy and the services, but with other uniformed services such as the coastguard? That would greatly benefit young people and give such services the opportunity to contribute to the big society idea in a positive and meaningful way.

I can think of no bigger supporter of the big society than my hon. Friend. He has proposed a genuinely helpful and innovative idea. I will share with ministerial colleagues the idea of expanding the cadet service to give young people the opportunity to gain experience in the professions and careers that he has mentioned. I will pursue his suggestion with vigour.

Will the Leader of the House find an opportunity for a debate on bank lending so that I can articulate the concerns of the managing director and owner of the excellent Talgarth Bakery, which I recommend to the Leader of the House? The owner managed to secure funding from the Welsh Assembly Government to purchase a unit of property next door to his business, so that he could expand his work force and his small business. However, Barclays bank asked him for a 35% deposit that he could not secure. He has therefore had to turn down that opportunity for expansion. That is a common tale of small and medium-sized companies not being able to access finance. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate in Government time?

That is a long way for me to go to buy my bread, but I take note of the excellent quality of the produce in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I hope that other banks that are listening take the opportunity to pick up new custom by offering the facilities that were denied by the firm’s existing bank. I hope that that leads to the resources that the company needs being forthcoming. I will, of course, raise with ministerial colleagues the general issue of bank lending, because that was a condition of the support that the previous Government gave.

May we have a debate on the future of the horse racing levy, which, as my right hon. Friend well knows, is the mechanism by which a contribution is made to the racing industry by the gambling industry and those who place bets? The levy is in desperate need of modernisation, and I think that many hon. Members would have an interest in such a debate.

Indeed, the matter is of great interest to the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire, who has a number of racing stables in his constituency. I am unable to provide an immediate debate in Government time, but the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee is in her place and will have noted the bid. It might be the subject of an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall or in the House.

May we have an urgent debate on the announcement that is buried on page 73 of today’s overview of draft legislation for the Finance Bill, which suggests that rather than raising £3.5 billion from the banking levy, the Government will raise only £2.5 billion? On a day when they are telling university teaching professionals and students that some of the cuts are unavoidable, is it not a scandal that they are climbing down on the bank levy?

The Government are not climbing down on the bank levy. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it absolutely clear that he wants to extract the maximum possible resources from the banks. The amount that we will collect is a lot more than the previous Government had planned.

May I ask for a statement, or for a clarification from the Leader of the House, on a clause in the coalition agreement, which states:

“We will…work to limit the application of the Working Time Directive in the United Kingdom”?

Is that merely an aspiration, or will the Government insist that the directive is disapplied in the UK in return for our agreement to an EU treaty revision?

My hon. Friend is right to remind the House that we are committed in the coalition agreement to limit the application of the working time directive in the UK. That means that we would like to find a solution to the problems caused by the SiMAP and Jaeger judgments. It also means that our position on the retention of the opt-out will be absolutely firm. Any attempt to trade off between a solution to those cases and the opt-out will lead to the same stand-off as in the last negotiations.

Given that the Government’s national security strategy has identified terrorism as the biggest threat that we now face, and in the light of recent events, will the Leader of the House grant a debate on his Government’s plans to cut counter-terrorism policing by 10% over the next four years?

The business next week includes a debate on terrorist asset freezing, and the hon. Gentleman might have an opportunity at that time to raise the issue that he has just touched on.

In a recent parliamentary answer, the Government confirmed that, to meet our targets on renewable energy, they will add 26% to the average annual domestic electricity bill and a whopping £246,000 to the average medium-sized non-domestic user’s bill. Given that the Government are trying to create economic growth and tackle fuel poverty, may we have a debate on this, so that the public can understand how damaging these policies are, and that they represent a futile attempt to tackle global warming, which we have not even had for the past 15 years?

I understand the concern expressed by my hon. Friend, but the Government remain committed to their carbon reduction targets. In the near future, we will be debating the Energy Bill, which contains a number of measures designed to reduce the cost of energy, which my hon. Friend is rightly worried about, and he might have an opportunity during the passage of that Bill to develop his arguments.

Will the Leader of the House make provision on Monday for plenty of time for personal statements by hon. Members? There is a rumour that some Liberal Democrats are planning to abstain this afternoon by voting in both Lobbies. “Erskine May” says:

“The Speaker has deprecated as ‘unparliamentary’ the practice of voting in both lobbies as a demonstration of a ‘third’ position.”

It also states that Members who had done so mistakenly would be allowed, on the following day, to explain in a personal statement which Lobby they had intended to be in.

Members might not be aware that, last Thursday, a piece of legislation was passed in the House which grants the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards the power to investigate any MP he wishes, if he thinks fit, without having received a prior complaint. This would of course result in the headline the following day, “Parliamentary sleaze watchdog investigates MP”. Will the Leader of the House please tell us why he saw fit to grant such powers to someone who is unelected and probably has the leakiest office in Westminster, and who also has close relations with the media?

It was not I who granted those powers. The House decided, without Division, to approve the unanimous report of the Standards and Privileges Committee, which carried the resolution to which my hon. Friend refers.

A constituent of mine who served in Her Majesty’s armed forces was hooded and beaten in a mock interrogation while serving in the Army. He suffered psychological damage, turned to alcohol and has since had his military pension reduced to 6%. When will we have an opportunity to debate the treatment of military veterans who have served so well in our armed forces?

In the relatively near future, we will be debating the Armed Forces Bill, which might provide an opportunity to raise such issues. I am very sorry to hear what happened to the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, and I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to the incidents that he has just described.

Many parents in my constituency—not least my constituency caseworker—have experienced immense frustration in dealing with the apparently dysfunctional Child Support Agency. May we have a debate in the not too distant future on the future of the agency?

My hon. Friend is not unique in having a regular dialogue with the CSA on behalf of his constituents, and I share and understand his concern. He will know that, following the public bodies reform announcement on 14 October, the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission will be abolished as a non-departmental public body, and instead become an Executive agency of the Department for Work and Pensions. It is our intention that all functions of the commission will be moved to the Executive agency. I hope that that will result in an improvement in the performance of that body.

May we have a debate on the education maintenance allowance? The Government keep telling us about a report which states that 90% of people say that they do not need EMAs at all, yet not a single student or member of a student’s family was asked to take part in the report. The only people who were asked to take part were sixth-formers, and I suggest that that report simply does not hold water. The Leader of the House should call a debate on that subject.

I repeat what I said a few moments ago: the evidence shows that around 90% of EMA spending goes to students who would have stayed in education anyway. No Government confronted with that sort of dead-weight expenditure can ignore it, and we will be saving some £0.5 billion by moving to targeted support to help those who face financial barriers to participation.

Will the Leader of the House grant us a debate on the UK travellers who are still seeking compensation for flights cancelled during April’s volcanic ash cloud? Mr and Mrs Ashworth from Colne in my constituency have now been seeking compensation from Ryanair for more than seven months. They have sent in the same forms and provided evidence of their entitlement several times, and done everything that has been asked of them, yet Ryanair is still failing to honour its responsibility, leaving my constituents out of pocket.

I am very sorry to hear of Mr and Mrs Ashworth’s experience, but they are fortunate to have a Member of Parliament such as my hon. Friend to pursue their case. If Ryanair is failing to respond to their claim, the next step is to talk to the complaint handler for the EU state in which the event occurred. In most cases, that is the national aviation regulator, and in the UK, it is the Civil Aviation Authority.

If those who are protesting peacefully and lawfully today are kettled by the police so that they are unable to use even basic facilities for a long time, may I tell the Leader of the House that we will expect a statement from the Home Secretary after the vote today to give the House an explanation of what has occurred? May I also just mention—

I am not going to get involved in the operational responsibilities of the Metropolitan police. I am sure that they will discharge their responsibilities to the public sensibly today, and keep public order outside Parliament.

Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motions 520, 598 and 1,160?

[That this House welcomes the statement by the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs that there is a ‘huge untapped potential' for recruiting more special constables in the future; notes that the number of specials in Essex has doubled over the past four years to nearly 700 officers; further notes the public service of special constables, who are dedicated volunteers, often working in hazardous conditions; believes that transforming the Special Constabulary into a Territorial Army-type force would enable specials to cover more policing duties and would offer excellent value for money, sustaining frontline operational services; further believes that specials are a genuinely local force, like Neighbourhood Watch, who offer an invaluable source of community intelligence; and therefore calls upon the Government to refocus its resources to incentivise special constables, so that they can work more hours and develop professionally.]

Will my right hon. Friend make a statement on what steps the Government are taking to support special constables, and will he support my planned amendment to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill that would give local authorities the power to give special constables a discount on their council tax?

I endorse my hon. Friend’s support for special constables. As I announced a few moments ago, we are debating the Second Reading of the police Bill on Monday, and if he were lucky enough to serve on the Public Bill Committee, he would have an opportunity to table his amendment to exempt special constables from paying council tax. I should add that powers already exist to allow police authorities, with the support of the chief constable, to pay an allowance to some or all special constables in their area, and the Government also want to do what they can to increase the number of special constables.

My constituents at Hull York medical school are concerned that the House of Commons has not had an opportunity to debate fees and medical education. As time will be so short this afternoon in the debate on raising the cap on tuition fees, will the Government allow a debate on that particular issue so that the House can effectively scrutinise the important issue of training our doctors for the future?

The hon. Lady is right to say that the training of our doctors for the future is important. The Government have no plans for such a debate, but I refer her to the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, as this might be a suitable candidate for one of her debates.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that, in the 2001 Parliament, the House voted to rise at 7 o’clock on Wednesdays, yet last night we rose at 11 minutes past midnight after debating a motion that was proposed at very short notice and at great inconvenience to many Members? Does he think that that is a satisfactory situation, particularly when the shadow Leader of the House spoke for more than two hours in what was apparently a filibuster?

To one extent, we were better off having that debate yesterday; otherwise, we would have had it on Tuesday at 10.30 pm, and it would have gone on until even later. We do not plan to have debates after the moment of interruption on a regular basis but, from time to time, it is necessary to ensure that the business of the House is properly discharged.

On school sport, the Prime Minister said in answer to a question I asked last week that there would be a change of heart and that he would examine the matter. We had a debate in which there was wholehearted support from all parties for a change of mind. The redundancy notices are starting to go out to school sports co-ordinators. May we have a decision on what will happen?

As I said a few moments ago—I think in response to the shadow Leader of the House—the old system cost too much and was too bureaucratic. We will announce how we will spend the money that we have allocated for school sport in due course.

May I ask the Leader of the House to make time for a debate on careers advice in school? Although I welcome the coalition’s plans to introduce an all-age service, we need to ensure universal, specialist careers advice for all our young children, that starts in schools from a very young age and does not impose plans from the top down. I believe that all hon. Members should debate that before any final decisions on provision are implemented.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. With the establishment of an all-age careers service by April 2012, we intend to restore a focus on specialist expertise and careers guidance for young people, based on independence and professionalism. I regret that the single focus on careers guidance has been lost in recent years, and we hope to put that right. If we have time for a debate on the matter, I hope that the Back-Bench business committee can allocate one.

Will the Leader of the House enlighten us about why he has decided to pull stumps half-an-hour early this evening, because he did not do so last night? Instead of criticising the Opposition, will he tell us why he has chosen to restrict debate by taking that half-an-hour off when so many Members want to speak?

We followed the precedent of the previous Government, who, in a similar debate, drew stumps at 5 o’clock.

May we have a debate in Government time on propriety in the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority? My right hon. Friend will know, because three hon. Members, including me and the very experienced right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), have advised him of the matter, that it is alleged that Anne Power, the communications official at IPSA, is touting so-called juicy stories around the Lobby to friendly journalists. That accusation has been made on several occasions. Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to speak to the chief executive of IPSA? At the very least, the individual concerned is breaching the Data Protection Act. If true, the position is completely unacceptable and intolerable.

If that activity took place, it is indeed unacceptable. I think that I am right to say that a question was tabled to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) on the specific issue, and an answer was provided either yesterday or today, stating that IPSA denies that any such contact took place.

Throughout the past week, towns in my constituency and throughout central Scotland have resembled a scene from Armageddon: children have not been able to get home from school and have had to stay there overnight; students have had to stay in colleges; lorries have been abandoned; people have been stuck in cars for 14 hours; there have been fuel and food shortages, and now the Army is on the streets trying to clear the ice. Will the Leader of the House grant time for a debate or a ministerial statement on the Government’s response to the inclement weather, which we used to say happened now and again, yet now comes every year? Things need to change in the United Kingdom; we need to respond far better and far more quickly. Will the right hon. Gentleman grant time for a debate?

There are real difficulties, which we have all seen on our television screens, in Scotland. Most of the responsibility for addressing them has been devolved to the Scottish Parliament. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, any support that the Westminster Parliament can extend to Scotland will be given. However, I doubt whether there is time for a debate between now and the Christmas recess.

Last week, the Financial Times investigated the EU structural funds for poorer regions. It found £500 million paid out in error and £92 million of suspected fraud last year alone. Mercifully, only 10% of the funds have been paid out. May we have a statement and a debate on the action that is being taken to whip OLAF, the EU’s anti-fraud body, into shape and prevent the remaining £260 billion from being squandered?

The whole House will deplore any waste of funds. Of course, it is right that EU structural funds should be put to the use for which they are designed. I am happy to say that the UK has above average implementation of the structural and cohesion funds, and the UK programmes are on track to meet their targets. I cannot comment on the programmes of other member states, but I will draw the Foreign Secretary’s attention to my hon. Friend’s general point about the lack of accountability in part of the budget.

On 16 June, in his speech to the Hansard Society, the Leader of the House said that

“it has simply become too easy for the Government to sideline Parliament; to push Bills through without adequate scrutiny; and to see the House more as a rubber-stamp than a proper check on executive authority”.

He also said that his Government believe that a strong Parliament leads to a better Government. How does he square his belief in a strong Parliament with the Government’s shameful truncating of the debate on their proposals on tuition fees?

I have to say to the hon. Lady, who was Deputy Leader of the House, that we could have done what the previous Government did and allocated five hours for tuition fees, including the business motion. Any time spent on the business motion would have come out of that five hours. The previous Government did that, but we have more respect for Parliament than to do that on this issue.

The main problem with common sense is that it is not always as common as we would like. This week, it has been reported that farmers in Suffolk have not been allowed to clear snow from the highways because their agricultural vehicles are running on red diesel, which does not attract full road fuel duty. Will the Leader of the House advise on how we can get an immediate derogation for farmers involved in essential snow clearing? What can we do to ensure that the ridiculous situation does not happen again with the next snowfall and the next national emergency?

It would be absurd to penalise or arrest farmers for clearing snow with tractors that use red diesel. I hope that common sense will prevail, but I will draw my hon. Friend’s remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ascertain whether, if a derogation is necessary, one might be issued.

May we have an early debate on the fashionable, right-wing notion of the nudge? In particular, may we have a discussion about the impact of the nudge on students and young people in persuading them not to go to the best universities because of the extortionate fees that the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are introducing?

A nudge is better than a nanny or, indeed, an Act of Parliament. It may be that the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene in the debate later, but, in the fear that he might not be called, has made his intervention early. I will draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

May we have a debate about the lobbying activities of former Ministers in the previous Government? My right hon. Friend will have seen today’s report from the Standards and Privileges Committee, which recommends that Geoff Hoon be banned for five years and Stephen Byers for two years from holding a parliamentary pass for what it calls a particularly serious breach of the code of conduct. What can we do to ensure that there is no repetition of that Labour sleaze in future?

I have announced that there will be a debate on that report on Wednesday evening, when the House will have an opportunity to decide whether it wants to enforce the sanctions that are recommended in it. I very much hope that it will act as a salutary lesson to anybody who is thinking of repeating the offences that were committed in those cases.

Two weeks ago, the Leader of the House was courteous enough to agree that a debate, not in Government time, on war crimes in Sri Lanka might be important for the House to hold. That was before it was made clear that the Secretary of State for Defence is planning to visit Sri Lanka before Christmas. Will the Leader of the House clarify whether that is a private or an official visit? If it is the latter, could we ensure that a debate takes place in Government time on support for war crimes?

It was a private visit. It is open to the hon. Gentleman, as it is to all hon. Members, to apply for a debate in the pre-Christmas Adjournment debate by doing so before 4 o’clock on Monday. That would be a suitable opportunity for holding a debate on war crimes.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for Ministers to make a detailed statement about the announcement by the CBI lobby group that 25% of manufacturers report greater than normal exports this month, which is the best survey showing since 1995? Does not that show that the Government’s economic strategy is bearing fruit? The House should know about it.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Manufacturing has a vital contribution to make to exports and to reducing the high unemployment that the Government inherited. The latest CBI monthly industrial trends survey suggests that manufacturers expect output growth in the sector to accelerate in the next three months, and the CBI’s output expectations index rose to plus 13 in December from plus four in November. That is encouraging, and indeed signals that the Government’s economic policies are working.

Tomorrow in Oslo at the Nobel peace prize ceremony, there will be an empty chair, because Liu Xiaobo, who should be there, is rotting in a Communist prison. Nevertheless, his spirit will be there representing all the best in humankind. Can the Leader of the House get the Prime Minister or Foreign Secretary to make a statement on why they have said not one public word about Liu Xiaobo? Mrs Thatcher raised Sakharov and Lech Walesa, but the current Government are cowardly and utterly spineless in raising the case of Liu Xiaobo. Will a Minister go to the ceremony tomorrow so that Britain is represented?

It is deplorable that the winner of the prize is unable to attend the ceremony, and I deplore the loss of liberty involved. Foreign Office questions are next Tuesday, when the right hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to raise that matter, but I can tell him that it was raised when my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary recently visited China.

Will the Leader of the House grant a debate on the appropriateness of Royal Mail stopping the delivery of mail when there is snow on the ground? In large parts of my constituency, no mail has been delivered for about seven days because Royal Mail feels that it would be inappropriate for postmen and postwomen to go out in case they slip, and small businesses are suffering.

I am very sorry about that loss of service in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I hope that the health and safety measures to which she refers will be fair, balanced and proportionate. I understand that Royal Mail has an agreed policy with the unions whereby they conduct a walk-risk assessment process for the postal round—it is referred to as a “walk”. I will raise the issue that she raises with the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr Davey), to see whether he has a role to play in restoring the service in her constituency.

The citizens advice bureau in Wolverhampton provides highly valued advice and services to my constituents, including, thanks to the financial inclusion fund, debt advice. Before the comprehensive spending review, the Government said that they would make an announcement on the future of that fund after the CSR, then we heard that it would be made in December, and now we are told that it will be in January. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Government make an urgent statement to end the uncertainty for the citizens advice bureau and my constituents, whom it serves so well?

There will be a debate next Tuesday in Westminster Hall on legal aid. I pay tribute to the work done by the CAB in the hon. Lady’s constituency. If she takes part in that debate, I will ensure that she has an answer to her question.

Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Weatherfield’s—and Rossendale’s—most famous son, William Roache, and the cast of “Coronation Street”, on the programme’s 50th anniversary today? Will he find time for a debate on the contribution of the creative industries to the north-west economy?

I am sure that the whole House will want to join my hon. Friend in his congratulations to the producers and cast of “Coronation Street” on its 50th anniversary—it is a well loved and enduring British institution. I pay tribute to William Roache, who has starred in the programme since its very first episode. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend’s constituency stretches to Weatherfield, but he can probably console himself with the fact that his postbag is not quite as large as that of whichever Member represents Albert square.

The Dear Leader should not dismiss so lightly the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick). If peaceful protesters are kettled this afternoon—it frequently happens for six or eight hours or even longer—the Opposition will expect a statement from the Home Secretary.

I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but I believe that the police will discharge their responsibilities in the correct way and ensure that any protest is peaceful.

Last Thursday, when our minds may have been elsewhere—mine certainly was—we approved changes to the rules of the Standards and Privileges Committee. How much of the allegation that the new rules mean that wide-ranging investigations can be launched without any direction from the Committee or any complaint is correct?

The commissioner has been given the powers to start an investigation without a formal complaint. That is because in certain cases, complaints appeared in newspapers and were widely reproduced, but nobody made a formal complaint, so there was no investigation. The Standards and Privileges Committee introduced its proposal to address that particular problem, and it was unanimously approved by the House last week.

May I yet again make an impassioned plea to the Leader of the House to use his good offices to encourage Defence Ministers to come to that Dispatch Box to tell us what progress has been made on compensation payments for Christmas island victims and veterans? They have waited long and hard for some compensation. Let us put the legalities aside. Does the Leader of the House agree with early-day motion 1116, that there is a moral obligation on this Government, as indeed there was on the previous one, to pay compensation to those people?

[That this House notes with regret the decision of the Court of Appeal to deny ex-servicemen compensation for the illness and injuries they believe they suffered as a result of exposure to radiation from atmospheric nuclear weapons tests conducted between 1952 and 1958 on mainland Australia, the Australian Montebello Islands and on Christmas Island in the South Pacific; further notes that deleterious health impacts and cancers caused as a result of radiation exposure can appear several years after the exposure; therefore believes that, where compensation claims by atomic test veterans fall foul of a statute of limitations on the time period within which a claim should normally be made, Ministers should still consider those claims; further notes with alarm that Dr Sue Rabbit-Roff, a researcher at Durham University, has contacted 2,500 veterans in the UK and New Zealand establishing that twice as many were suffering from the radiation-induced cancer, multiple myeloma, than had been conceded by successive British governments; welcomes the French government's agreement to compensate its own atomic test veterans, those who contracted illnesses attributed to the country's nuclear tests in the Sahara and French Polynesia, between 1960 and 1996; and calls on the Ministry of Defence to set aside its case in the courts and recognise its moral responsibility to compensate the UK soldiers and their families who acted in good faith to fulfil their military duties but as a consequence have suffered from exposure to radiation.]

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s strong feelings on that subject. He will have the opportunity to put that question to the Defence Secretary at Defence questions on Monday.

Some weeks ago, the House was promised—in a ministerial statement and on the Floor of the House—that by Christmas, there will be a statement on contaminated blood. Will the Leader of the House confirm that that is still the case?

I confirm what was said in oral questions on Tuesday—that Health Ministers expect to report the outcome of the review before Christmas.

In Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, the Minister with responsibility for forestry made several references to the 1% of Forestry Commission land that has been sold off in recent years. Those routine sales are dwarfed by the fire sale of our English forests that the Public Bodies Bill, which is currently in the other place, makes possible. May we have a separate debate in Government time on the protection of, and access to, our woodland? England’s forests are far too precious to be just another clause in that Bill.

I can give no undertaking that there will be such a debate, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Labour party sold some 12,000 hectares of land without any reference at all.

Although I very much welcome the increase in exports, many small and medium-sized businesses in my constituency are finding it difficult to get capital from banks. If they get capital, they find that the banks want to charge enormous interest rates. Is it not time we had a debate on that, because the coalition Government very much want an increase in the private sector?

It is essential for economic recovery that the banks provide the finance necessary to generate wealth. As I think I said in response to an earlier question, I will draw that issue to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There could be an opportunity to pursue the matter further at the next Treasury questions.

May we have a statement on the work of the Met Office, particularly given its forecast on Sunday evening of inclement weather in Scotland on Monday? During that statement, could we take the opportunity to dissociate ourselves from the disgraceful comments of the Scottish National Party Minister in the devolved Administration, who sought to lay the blame for their failure to do anything on the Met Office, even though it had warned of inclement weather?

I am reluctant to be drawn into Scottish politics. I see no prospect of an early debate on the Met Office, but there will be an opportunity to question at the Dispatch Box the Ministers who have overall responsibility for it.

I welcome the opportunity to debate firearms on 20 December. The Leader of the House will be aware—I copied him in—that I wrote to the Home Secretary more than a fortnight ago to ask her to explain why almost 5,000 children have shotgun licences. I am yet to receive a reply, but I am sure that the House will think that one would be appropriate ahead of that debate. Will the Leader of the House urgently investigate that and ensure that the House is informed of the reasons why those children have shotguns?

I understand that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary wrote to the hon. Gentleman yesterday to address his specific queries. I have a copy of the letter with me in case it has not reached him.

The noble Lord Hill has confirmed to me that students in year 12 currently in receipt of education maintenance allowance will not be able to receive it as they progress into the second year of their post-16 course. They will then become the first cohort of students vulnerable to the new tuition fee regime. I am sure that the Government do not intend that small group of students to pay such a heavy penalty. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made?

They will be eligible, if they are in financial need, for the continuation of EMA, which was referred to earlier.

Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch have been brought to a standstill by the arctic weather over the past 10 days and local authority resources are at breaking point, and that is before the Government’s public sector cuts. May we have a debate on what the spending cuts will mean for this country’s future preparedness for winter emergencies?

That is a matter for the devolved Administration in Scotland, who get a block grant from the UK Government to apply as they think fit. They are accountable for how they discharge their obligations and the priorities on which they decide.

May we have a debate in the House about why £2 billion in business rates is being withheld from local authorities until 2013-14, prior to a general election, while the Government are still insisting that front-loaded cuts be imposed on local authorities at present?

I hope that there will be a statement on local government finance in the relatively near future, when the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to put that question.