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Business of the House

Volume 547: debated on Thursday 28 June 2012

The business for next week will be:

Monday 2 July—Motion to approve Ways and Means resolutions relating to the Finance Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Finance Bill (day 1).

Tuesday 3 July—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Finance Bill (day 2).

Wednesday 4 July—Estimates day (1st allotted day). There will be a debate on the work of the UK Border Agency, followed by a debate on UK-Turkey relations and Turkey’s regional role.

Further details will be given in the Official Report.

[The details are as follows: There will be a debate on: UK-Turkey relations and Turkey’s regional role: 12th report from the Foreign Affairs Committee of Session 2010-12, HC 1567, and the Government response thereto, CM 8370.]

At 7 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to terrorism.

Thursday 5 July—Proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Bill, followed by debate on a motion relating to VAT on air ambulance fuel payments, followed by debate on a motion relating to the public administration Select Committee’s recommendation for the Prime Minister’s adviser on Ministers’ interests to be empowered to instigate his own investigations.

Friday 6 July—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 9 July will include:

Monday 9 July—Second Reading of the House of Lords Reform Bill (day 1).

Tuesday 10 July—Conclusion of Second Reading of the House of Lords Reform Bill (day 2).

Wednesday 11 July—Debate on a motion relating to the sitting hours of the House of Commons. The subject for that debate has been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee. Following that, the Chairman of Ways and Means is expected to name opposed private business for consideration.

Thursday 12 July—Motion relating to the reform of the Court of Justice of the European Union, followed by a motion on a European document relating to the EU draft budget, followed by a motion on a European document relating to EU human rights strategy.

Friday 13 July—Private Members’ Bills.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 5 July will be a debate on PIP breast implants and regulation of cosmetic interventions, followed by a debate on adoption.

The right hon. Gentleman has announced for next week a debate on a Backbench Business Committee motion on giving the adviser on the ministerial code the power to initiate an investigation rather than waiting for the Prime Minister to ask for it, which this Prime Minister has been remarkably reluctant to do. Will the Government accept the decision of the House on this matter?

The revelations that Barclays bank engaged in “widespread” market manipulation to maximise its profits are truly shocking. There are suggestions that other banks were also involved in rigging the LIBOR and EURIBOR rates. I know the Chancellor will make a statement after business questions, but does the Leader of the House agree that such behaviour is “morally repugnant”?

Yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister published the House of Lords Reform Bill. The Opposition welcome this legislation. I have always voted for an elected second Chamber and look forward to doing so again, this time with Conservative Back Benchers joining us in the Division Lobby. When the Labour Government took through legislation to remove hereditary peers—a simple six-clause Bill—there were nine days of debate. Why are the Government planning to offer little more debate on the House of Lords Reform Bill, which is a much bigger and more complex piece of legislation? The Leader of the House is fond of saying that the House is not a legislative factory. The Queen’s Speech was short of Bills; time is not a problem. Will he undertake to arrange future Government business to ensure that Members have sufficient time to scrutinise that important Bill?

I can understand Conservative MPs finding the Liberal Democrat differentiation strategy increasingly infuriating—perhaps that explains why the Prime Minister and the Education Secretary have jumped on the same bandwagon —but if the Liberal Democrats differentiate themselves from the coalition and the Conservatives do the same, where does that leave the Government? Perhaps the Education Secretary, who wants to micro-manage schools, could pose this as an exam question: if two parties come together and then differentiate themselves, what does that leave? Based on the last few weeks, the answer is a complete shambles. Will the Leader of the House arrange in future business for Liberal Democrat and Conservative Ministers to share the speaking time to give both parties ample opportunity to differentiate themselves?

We have known for months that the Chancellor is out of touch with the country, but we did not realise until recently the extent to which he is out of touch with his own ministerial colleagues. The Transport Secretary has spent weeks telling everyone that the increase in fuel duty announced in the Budget is going ahead, and on Tuesday morning on the airwaves she was absolutely clear that it would not be postponed. Later that day at 12.30 pm, Conservative Whips sent a briefing to all Tory MPs saying that freezing fuel duty would be

“hypocrisy of the worst kind”.

Two hours later, the Chancellor popped up at the Dispatch Box to announce that he will, after all, freeze fuel duty. Having humiliated the Transport Secretary, the Chancellor then forced the Economic Secretary to make her now celebrated “Newsnight” appearance to explain the latest Budget U-turn, on the grounds—to quote her words—that

“there isn’t much in the world that is certain”.

Given the disarray and panic in the Treasury bunker, the Leader of the House might struggle to give an exact figure, but how many Budget U-turns have we had to date? I wonder whether the Chancellor could write the next Budget in pencil so that we can rub it all out again when he changes his mind. The Leader of the House has announced two days of debate on the Finance Bill next week. Will he now put his reputation on the line, here and now, and tell us categorically that there will be no more U-turns on this bungling Budget? Perhaps he should just give up and vote for our amendments next week.

The Government have made the wrong choice on the economy—a double-dip recession made in Downing street, borrowing up, tax receipts down, living standards down, no plan for growth. The Government’s economic policy is running out of road. The U-turn that the Chancellor needs to make is on his failed economic strategy.

On the point about the debate on the adviser to the Prime Minister, the hon. Lady is now asking us to do what her Government consistently refused to do, which was to allow the Prime Minister’s adviser to initiate inquiries. She will have to listen to the response given by my ministerial colleague in the debate that I have just announced, which was selected by the Backbench Business Committee.

On the Barclays debacle, as the hon. Lady knows, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will make a statement, but it strikes me as a failure of the light-touch regime introduced by a previous Minister.

So far as the House of Lords is concerned, the Opposition seem to be in a total muddle. They say that they support the Bill but that they will oppose the programme motion, before they even know what it contains. I ask the hon. Lady, who I know supports reform, to listen to what her leader said in his first conference speech in 2010:

“This generation has a chance—and a huge responsibility—to change our politics. We must seize it and meet the challenge… we need to finally elect the House of Lords after talking about it for…a hundred years.”

That is what he said in 2010, yet yesterday the shadow Leader of the House of Lords said that

“it is not a priority”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 27 June 2012; Vol. 738, c. 237.]

The only thing that is consistent is the sheer opportunism of the Labour party on this subject.

On the usual knockabout about the coalition from the hon. Lady, I would simply say that two parties are now working together in government more harmoniously than one party did in government for 13 years.

Finally, on fuel, I admire the cool performance of the Economic Secretary in the face of some very aggressive interviewing by Jeremy Paxman. The Opposition accuse the Government of a U-turn, but let us consider their position. First, they introduced a fuel duty escalator—[Interruption.] Secondly, they asked us not to go ahead with their tax rise. Thirdly, when we do not, they complain. The alphabet does not contain a letter describing that manoeuvre.

Will my right hon. Friend please provide a debate on setting up an inquiry into the very serious allegations made against one of my predecessors, Raymond Mawby? These serious allegations, amounting to treason, need to be fully and fairly investigated, because he is not here to defend himself. It is in no one’s interest to have trial by media.

I admire what my hon. Friend has just done in defending one of her predecessors—a man with whom I served in the House from 1974 to 1983. As she said, so far only one side of the story has been put into the public domain, and it is imperative that the other side also be put forward, in the interests of the friends and family of Ray Mawby. I would like to make the appropriate inquiries to see how we might get the full story into the public domain, so that we can find out exactly what happened to him in the years to which she referred.

I convey to the House the apologies of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, who cannot be with us today owing to unavoidable personal business.

We are grateful for the time allocated to us by the Leader of the House and business managers, but it is still difficult managing demand. Having said that, we were grateful for the opportunity to suggest to him that the debate on the House’s sitting hours be on 11 July. However, we are still struggling with demand for the time allocated. Will he please reconsider the amount of time allocated to the Backbench Business Committee?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and to the Backbench Business Committee for collaborating with the usual channels in enabling the House to have a proper debate about sitting hours in the relatively near future. I take to heart what he has said about both the quantity of time and the predictability. We are committed to providing at least 27 days in the Chamber for the Backbench Business Committee, and I will use my best endeavours to give the hon. Gentleman adequate notice of time and do what I can to find more time, if possible, between now and the end of the Session, when I would expect, in any event, to have the usual pre-recess Adjournment debate.

As this week has seen the visit to London of the renowned American economist, Dr Arthur Laffer, may we please have a debate on the optimum level of taxation so that we have the opportunity to restate both the moral case and the economic case for lower taxation?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We have two days on the Finance Bill, including a debate on Third Reading, when that might be possible. I would welcome such a debate. The Prime Minister said yesterday—at this Dispatch Box, I think—that he believed in flatter, fairer taxes, which is why we have taken 2 million people out of tax altogether, reduced corporation tax and now have a lower top rate of tax to make Britain competitive with the rest of the world. I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend’s contributions on Third Reading of the Finance Bill on Tuesday.

Could we have a debate about health service reorganisation and cuts, including plans to close four of the nine accident and emergency departments in west London, where the local NHS says that without closure they will

“literally run out of money”?

The right hon. Gentleman will know these hospitals very well, as hospitals such as Hammersmith, Charing Cross, Central Mid and Ealing served his former constituents, and they are much needed by the people they serve.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I had an interest in the area he now represents. We are putting more resources into the NHS than were planned by the Labour party, but I will share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and ask him to write to the hon. Gentleman about the proposed rationalisation to which he refers.

As co-chairman of the all-party group on carers, I ask my right hon. Friend to give an undertaking that, if the White Paper on social care is not published and a statement made on it next week, we will have both that White Paper and a statement before the rise of the House for the summer recess—not least to give right hon. and hon. Members the opportunity to study it during that recess? It would be good to see the White Paper, as I understand that it might include some enhanced rights and remedies for carers.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and take this belated opportunity to congratulate him personally on his knighthood. It is indeed our intention to publish in the very near future the White Paper and the progress report on the reform of funding. We plan to implement the recommendations of the Law Commission. I applaud my hon. Friend’s interest, and that of the group he co-chairs. We are determined to do more for carers and to drive up carers’ rights. I very much hope that when the White Paper is produced, he will be reassured by some of its proposals. As I said, we plan to bring it forward very shortly.

The Leader of the House has announced the Second Reading of the coalition’s House of Lords Reform Bill, which gets two days’ debate. At the end of Tuesday’s debate, after the question that the Bill be read a Second time has been put, is it the Government’s intention immediately to hold the vote on any programme motion?

Yes, that would be our proposition—a proposition that we have adhered to for all the legislation we have produced so far. Discussions continue through the usual channels about the content of the programme motion. I very much hope that the Opposition will enter into sensible and constructive discussions so that we can make good progress on this important piece of legislation.

What representations has the Leader of the House received from Back Benchers, or indeed from the official Opposition, on the number of days in the programme for the House of Lords Reform Bill? Just how many days are they seeking?

The particular usual channel that would handle those negotiations would be my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary, the right hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Mr McLoughlin). However, I note that in an exchange during yesterday’s debate on the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill, the Opposition were asked how many days they wanted for the Committee stage, and all that they said was “plenty”. As I have said, I hope very much that that they will enter into serious discussions so that this important legislation can complete its progress through the House in an agreed and structured way.

I know that amnesia is now afflicting so many members of the Cabinet that it is amazing that they manage to recognise one another when they meet, but the Leader of the House said earlier that the fuel escalator had been introduced by a Labour Government. It was not; it was introduced in 1993 by the Conservatives.

My question, however, is about the statutory instrument which is to be debated next Wednesday, and which deals with terrorism. So far the Home Office is refusing to tell us what it is about, and it has not been published. How can we possibly scrutinise a statutory instrument on a key matter next Wednesday if we are not even told what it is about?

May we have a debate on the exposure of UK business men to personal hazard in Serbia as a result of article 359 of the Serbian criminal code, which was condemned by a resolution of the European Parliament on 29 March and which has resulted in the incarceration without trial of my constituent Mr Nicholas Djivanovic since 28 March last year? Given Mr Djivanovic’s case, the advice must be that investors considering Serbia should proceed with extreme caution, if at all.

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern, and I very much hope that the consular service is giving his constituent all the support that it can. I cannot promise an early debate, but this strikes me as an appropriate subject for an Adjournment debate, or indeed, if we have one, a debate on the pre-recess Adjournment. In the meantime, I will raise my hon. Friend’s constituency case with the appropriate Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

It is now eight months since the Department of Health announced that it would provide more money for the seven private finance initiative hospitals. Eight months on, those trusts still do not know how much money they will receive. May we have an urgent statement from the Department on when the money will be allocated?

Rather than waiting for a statement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, I will write to him today and ask whether he can correspond with the hon. Gentleman and answer his question about when the resources to which he has referred will be made available.

Yesterday the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group held a meeting to prepare a submission for the Heseltine review, which gives the Government an opportunity to look strategically at how it can support our country’s competitiveness. Given the importance of the review, I believe that it is also important for Members to have their say. Will the Leader of the House be able to commit himself to arranging a debate on the review in Government time and giving Members an opportunity to make clear their views on how we can increase our competitiveness?

The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill is currently going through its stages, and it may be possible to debate the issue raised by my hon. Friend when it returns to the Floor of the House.

My hon. Friend is right: the Chancellor and the Business Secretary have asked Lord Heseltine to undertake an independent review of how spending Departments and other relevant public sector bodies interact with the private sector, and then to assess their capacity to develop pro-growth policies. The review will include a benchmarking exercise comparing how we do with how other countries do, and Lord Heseltine is engaging comprehensively with all interested groups. He has said that he will publish his report in October, and it may be appropriate to hold a debate thereafter, possibly in Back-Bench business time.

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 274, which stands in my name?

[That this House pays tribute to Emily Rawlins, of Manchester, who has triumphed over her learning disability to become a member of the Great Britain Athletics Learning Disability Team, representing our country in Croatia, Italy, France and Sweden, and winning silver and bronze medals in the hammer; further pays tribute to her volunteering work about coping with bullying, following having been bullied herself for most of her school life, and volunteering in addition as a sports coach and at a charity shop; and hails her as a marvellous example of how courage and determination can prevail in adverse circumstances.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in paying tribute to my constituent Emily Rawlins, a young woman who has overcome a learning disability and bullying to become a member of the Great Britain athletics learning disability team, and who has won silver and gold medals when representing our country in European countries? Will he do his best to ensure that this young lady, who volunteers against bullying and does a lot of other volunteering but is looking for full-time work, does not have her access to jobseeker’s allowance reduced because of the marvellous public work that she does?

I assume that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) was seeking either a statement or possibly even a full debate on that important matter.

I will raise with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions the interaction of entitlement to jobseeker’s allowance with the activity to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. I have indeed seen early-day motion 274, and I join the right hon. Gentleman in congratulating Emily, who is, I believe, a member of Sale Harriers and who provides a great example of the ability to triumph over disability and bullying. I think that the British team won 11 medals in Sweden, which bodes very well for the imminent Paralympics.

May we have a debate on who the Government thinks should be in our prisons? Although nearly 4,000 burglars and 4,500 violent offenders with 15 or more previous convictions were not sent to prison last year, the Government’s view is that there are still far too many criminals in prison. Perhaps the Government could explain why they have agreed to allow Charles Taylor, the former Liberian President, to serve his 50-year prison sentence in this country. Surely, if we cannot afford to have British criminals sent to prison, we cannot afford to send former Liberian Presidents to prison in this country either.

My view is that some people who are not in prison should be and some people who are in prison should not be, but the issue of whether someone is given a prison sentence is primarily one for the courts rather than Parliament. We recently passed a sentencing Bill which raised the thresholds for some minimum sentences, and I am sure that that was welcomed by my hon. Friend. As for the specific case to which he referred, I will raise it with my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor.

Like many other people, I welcomed the appeal by my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor for a cut in fuel duty when he was interviewed on the “Today” programme. A few hours later, the Chancellor accepted it. That is, I think, what we mean by bipartisanship. May we now have a debate on the need to cut air passenger duty? It will cost a family in Rotherham £320 to go on holiday this summer, whereas it will cost a family in France, for example, just £38. Following the U-turn on fuel duty, may we have a U-turn on air passenger duty?

I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman was present for Transport questions, but they would have provided him with an ideal opportunity to raise the issue. [Interruption.] If he is proposing a reduction in a particular form of taxation, perhaps he would like to suggest where the money might come from.

Order. The right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) has been chuntering from a sedentary position that he did not make that point at Transport questions because he was not called by me, but he was called this time, and I know that he is deeply grateful.

May we have a debate on spinal muscular atrophy, which is the number one genetic killer of infants and small children? I am sure that the Leader of the House will join me in congratulating 24 of my constituents who are cycling from Le Mans to Olney to raise funds for my three-year-old constituent Maya Czerminska to buy the special equipment that she needs. May I simply ask the Government to redouble their efforts to tackle this appalling disease?

I applaud the fundraising initiative of my hon. Friend’s constituent. The National Screening Committee is currently scoping out a review for screening for spinal muscular atrophy, and once the review has been completed, it will be put on the NSC’s website for consultation. I know that the NSC would welcome an input from my hon. Friend, and, indeed, from those who are raising funds for this worthwhile cause.

May we have a debate on the way in which we treat the staff of the House, particularly the very loyal staff on the switchboard, many of whom are my constituents and many of whom have been here for more than 20 years? They have been told that they will have to move to Southampton next May because Capita has taken over the running of the service. Can we really not look at the way in which we treat our own staff?

The hon. Lady is right to draw the House’s attention to the debt that we owe to all those who work for the House and provide such a high-quality service, often in challenging circumstances. I understand that the contract for the switchboard operation has been awarded to Capita as part of the initiative of the House of Commons Commission to reduce costs. The hon. Lady’s concern is not primarily a matter for the Government, but it is a matter for the Commission, so I will raise it with the Commission and see whether there is a role for us to play in minimising the dislocation of her constituents.

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate on the functioning of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, especially in relation to the extra funds made available to it to deal with tax avoidance and tax evasion? It appears to me that it is the media that are finding high-profile tax avoiders, while HMRC is chasing one of my constituents for small overpayments of tax credits from more than 10 years ago. I am sure that is not what the extra resources were intended for.

I am sure my hon. Friend will take up with vigour the case of his constituent who is being pursued for tax credits. We all know from our own casework that quite often tax credits are overpaid through no fault of the constituent, and then some time later HMRC asks for the money back and it is not there.

On my hon. Friend’s first point, the Government have given £900 million in extra resources to HMRC specifically to bring in more tax, and we estimate that that will bring in an extra £7 billion of revenue.

This weekend is likely to see the beginning of the end of the euro. While euro-obsessives wring their hands in anguish at the thought, some of us believe that re-establishing national currencies will be beneficial in both economic and democratic terms, yet we have not had a serious debate about life after the euro. Will the Leader of the House make time for such a debate?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has a good record on keeping the House in the picture after European Council meetings. I have to say that I do not think it would be in the interests of this country for the euro currency to come to an end, as the uncertainty and instability would be gravely damaging to British interests and British employment. However, if my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reports on the weekend conference, there may be an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to pursue this matter with him.

May we have a debate on the operation of the parliamentary information technology system, so I can understand why we have a wi-fi system that we have to log into about every five seconds, my constituents can have a better understanding of the alleged overspending on iPad rental, and everyone can understand who is responsible for the operation of this system?

Again, that is more a matter for the Commission than the Government, but speaking from memory, I think there are plans to roll out access to wi-fi within the Palace of Westminster. At the moment it does not reach the Leader’s office. I hope that—[Laughter.] I hope that, as the reach of wi-fi spreads through the Palace of Westminster and the signal strength is improved, my hon. Friend will not be inconvenienced in the way that he clearly is at present.

On Monday, I raised the case of a constituent who has had cancer. She has been told by her doctor that she is not fit enough to go back to work, but she is being denied benefit. The Minister in question refused to meet me and said it was now policy for Ministers not to look at individual cases. I am sure the Leader of the House agrees that we must be able to represent our constituents in exceptional cases. Please will he look into this matter for me?

I will certainly pursue this matter. As far as I know, Ministers are accessible to other Members who want to raise cases. On the particular case the hon. Lady raises, I am sure the constituent is appealing against the decision to deny benefit, but I will raise this specific concern with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and see whether a meeting might be arranged.

Wednesday 4 July is “Independents day”, a campaign day supporting and promoting the independent retail sector, spearheaded in my community by the Keighley Town Centre Association. Can we have a statement on what the Government have already done to support this important sector of our economy, and what they plan to do in the future?

I welcome this important initiative, supported by Keighley, and I pay tribute to independent shops, which are often a lifeline in areas that have not been reached by the multiples. I cannot promise an early debate, but this might be an appropriate subject for an Adjournment debate or one of the longer Westminster Hall debates.

Can we urgently have a statement on the medicine supply chain problems facing patients, front-line pharmacists and dispensing doctors? After 18 months of freedom of information requests, we now know that four out of five health boards, health trusts and prescribing bodies in England and Wales are experiencing difficulties in accessing drugs for conditions including diabetes, cancer and coronary care. In our country there is a public service obligation to provide electricity to every household. We should consider putting in place a patient service obligation to make sure UK patients have access to the drugs they need.

The hon. Gentleman raises a serious issue. There has been some discontinuity in the supply chain of certain medicines—in some cases companies can get a better deal if they sell pharmaceuticals overseas. My understanding was that there was a back-up service to ensure that shortages were avoided, but I will pursue this important matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

Dairy farmers in Crewe and Nantwich and elsewhere are rightly concerned about how much power the supermarket buyers have over them. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the establishment of the groceries code adjudicator, which my local farmers broadly welcome, and in particular the sanctions available to the adjudicator to make sure the supermarkets adhere to the code, thus protecting our vital dairy industry?

As my hon. Friend will know, in the Queen’s Speech we committed ourselves to introducing the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill. That Bill has now been introduced and is making its way through the other place. I hope it will come before this House before too long. The adjudicator will have strong powers to hold retailers to account if they have broken the code. He will be able to name and shame retailers and, if the Secretary of State agrees that it is necessary, to impose financial penalties.

May we have a statement or debate on the Government’s proposed changes to secondary education and the reintroduction of O-levels? This week, there was a leak to the Daily Mail and we had an Opposition day debate in which we heard a lot about aspirations but very few details. Schools in Birmingham and elsewhere have a right to know precisely what the Government are planning to do.

We had a good debate on O-levels on Tuesday, and if the hon. Lady looks at Hansard she will see that the resolution agreed by the House refers to the forthcoming consultation on the secondary school qualifications and curriculum framework. The point at which to have another debate would be once that consultation document is in the public domain. I would simply add that we inherited a situation in which far too many children were leaving primary school unable to write, read and add up properly. That was wholly unsustainable, and we have proposals to put it right.

Many Members recognise the excellent work nurses do. However, a constituent of mine who has spent more than 40 years as a nurse and nurse trainer has raised concerns about some of the basic personal care aspects of nursing training. May we have a debate on nursing training, therefore, and on how we can ensure that we have an excellent standard of nursing throughout the country?

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important to drive up the standards of nursing, and I believe that there has been a move to make nursing more of a graduate profession. I cannot promise an early debate on this subject, but again it might be a suitable subject for a debate on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall. We are committed to driving up the standard of nursing training, so that nurses can provide an even higher quality service to patients.

May we have a debate on endangered species, having read this week the very sad news of the death of Lonesome George, the last giant tortoise of his kind on the Galapagos islands? Does the Leader of the House see any parallel between the plight of Lonesome George and that of the endangered Chancellor, with his tendency to hide in his shell at the first sign of trouble?

A moment ago, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was at my side. I am sure he will return—and he will certainly get support from me for his forthcoming statement. I should just say to the hon. Gentleman, however, that things are not going too well for his party. I see that Tony Blair took control of the Evening Standard yesterday, and when asked whether he wanted to become Prime Minister, he said, “Yes, sure.” I am not sure whether that is the vote of confidence in the current leadership that Labour was hoping for, or whether the reserves are lining up on the touchline.

Can we have a debate on topsy-turvy welfarism? The Sun has revealed that taxpayers are to be squeezed by the EU for tens of millions in winter fuel cash to send to pensioners who have not lived in the UK for decades. Surely it is wrong to tax pensioners and working people in my constituency to send what could be up to £90 million in benefits abroad to warm countries and tax havens across Europe.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about this. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has said that we will challenge these ridiculous rules and make sure that winter fuel payments go to those in this country. It is ludicrous that we should have to pay for more pensioners living in warmer countries than this one.

Following the excellent debate we had in Westminster Hall on women bishops in the Church of England, after recent events in the House of Bishops and with concern across the House of Commons about the good standing of the Church of England, is it not about time that we had a debate on the Floor of the House about women bishops?

If the hon. Lady is in her place this time next week, there will be Church Commissioners questions. The Second Church Estates Commissioner is in his place and has now had advance warning of the question, so he will come up with a scintillating reply in a week’s time.

As a member of the Joint Committee that examined the draft Bill, may I welcome the dates for the Second Reading of the House of Lords Reform Bill and the fact that the Government listened to the Committee’s recommendations to protect the primacy of this place? Can the Leader of the House tell us when he will publish the programme motion? Does he share my view that it is, sadly, all too typical of Opposition Front Benchers to say they will oppose something they have not seen and which is necessary to enact the reform they claim to want?

The programme motion will be tabled in good time for the debate. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that it is absurd for Labour Members to say that they are going to oppose the programme motion before they have even seen it.

Earlier this week, Defence Ministers talked up their budgetary competence. Today, the National Audit Office says that £6 billion has been wasted on redundant kit—this includes storing parts for spy planes that no longer fly. Can we have a debate on improving financial management in the Ministry of Defence?

The MOD will of course consider the NAO’s detailed conclusions and recommendations, and will make a full response in due course. The priority at the moment is to make sure that those in Afghanistan have the kit they need, but we are addressing these issues, which have built up over some time. In respect of the NAO report, we are pleased that the NAO recognises that these changes are already making a difference. We are changing the way in which we buy, store and dispose of equipment, and we are investing in IT systems in order to make progress in this area.

By 2013, all secondary schools and many primary schools in Tamworth will have converted to academy status, under several providers. Those schools are even now discussing with the borough council how they can develop an overarching schooling strategy for the town. So may we have a debate on education and local government to discuss how county local authorities can devolve further responsibilities and powers to schools and to district councils?

I welcome the progress being made in my hon. Friend’s constituency. The schools that he has just mentioned are joining the more than 1,600 new academies that have been created since we came into office in May 2010, driving up standards and performance. I would welcome a debate along the lines that he suggested about the relationship between schools and local authorities, in which I could hear his thoughts about how we can do more to empower teachers and parents. I cannot promise such a debate in the very near future, but there may be an opportunity for one when we have the consultation paper to which I have just referred.

The Immigration Minister’s recent statement reflects growing concerns that Government policies are stopping able overseas students from coming to the UK. Can we have a debate on that important issue?

I would welcome such a debate. I have seen no evidence that our recently introduced controls are keeping out of the country able students who want to go to our best universities. I have to say that the system of immigration control that we inherited was shambolic, and we have had to take firm steps to bring it under control. We have seen no evidence that our approach is having the effect to which the hon. Lady refers.

Following on from my question last week, could my right hon. Friend find time for a debate about the use of parliamentary language in this place? A specific theme of such a debate would be the public perception of parliamentary procedure. Does he agree that this would be a debate in which hon. Members from both sides of the House would actively participate?

Further to our exchange last week, Mr Speaker, you and I have exchanged letters, and we are both more than happy to place that correspondence in the Library of the House for the convenience of right hon. and hon. Members. I also understand that the Procedure Committee has asked for a memorandum from the Clerk on this very subject, and I hope that in due course that might also be put in the public domain. I repeat what I said to my hon. Friend last week: when we engage in debate in this House, we ought to observe your injunctions to use temperate language, Mr Speaker, and have regard to what the public watching us think if we use language that is over the top.

The Government have kept this House starved of business over the past 12 months, leaving us less than fully employed in this Chamber. That makes it more difficult than normal to justify the return of the Commons in September, but I understand there are also special circumstances this year, as bringing the House back when the carpets and floors on the principal level will have been lifted will incur extra costs, and health and safety risks because of the asbestos discovered. Will the Leader of the House inform us what the extra costs and the health and safety implications are?

The Government believe, and indeed the House believes, that it is wrong that the Government should not be held to account from the middle to end of July until October, as was the practice in the previous Parliament. We believe that it is right that the House should sit in September, so that the Government can be held to account. Figures are in the public domain—I think from last year—showing the extra cost of sitting in September. My view is that it is very difficult to put a price on democracy, that it is right that we should be held to account throughout the year and that we can manage the maintenance of the House within the budget that is available.

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister made an excellent speech about the future strategy for benefits. The key issue that he made clear was that work will always pay but that benefits would be available for those who cannot work. Incredibly, the Labour party opposes a benefit cap and set up, when in government, a huge and complicated system of benefits. May we therefore have a debate on the future strategy for benefits, so that we can pin down, once and for all, where the Labour party stands? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. He will have heard my hon. Friends’ reaction to his proposal for a debate, and he may wish to ask the Backbench Business Committee for one. I applaud the speech that the Prime Minister made on Monday. The indications from one of the polls—I think I saw it in today’s paper—is that that speech struck a chord with the vast majority of the population. We have already made progress with universal credit, with housing benefit reform and reforms in respect of disability, but it is right to ask questions as to where we go next. I think that there is an appetite out there for further changes in the direction in which we have already embarked.

The further education loans regulations that are due for implementation on 1 September are to be laid before Parliament on the day before the recess begins, which is, coincidentally, the same day on which most FE colleges in this country close for the summer. That means that parliamentarians will not have time to scrutinise the regulations properly and, probably more importantly, that it will be almost impossible for FE colleges to put in place their operations for 1 September to make this work. May we have an urgent statement on this matter?

I understand the hon. Lady’s concern. She is asking for the regulations to be made available at an earlier date than the one currently planned, and I will certainly make inquiries to see whether that might be possible.

Youth unemployment in my constituency has fallen for the fourth successive month, and it is down by almost a quarter since the beginning of the year. Ensuring that people leave school with the skills that employers need is crucial to continuing that trend, so can we have a debate on the link between education, skills and employment?

I am delighted to hear the good news in my hon. Friend’s constituency. In the last quarter, youth unemployment in the country as a whole was down by 29,000. I am convinced that the Work programme has a role to play, as do work experience and investment in apprenticeships. He is right to say that the higher the qualifications of those leaving school, the more likely they are to find a job in competitive markets. The thrust of our education policy is indeed to drive up those standards to improve the employability of those leaving school and college.

Can we have a debate on the definition of poverty? The current measure of poverty as an income of less than 60% of the national median wage means that if anyone increases their income, even the lowest paid worker in the country, they are judged to have pushed someone else into poverty. Perhaps even more perversely, if everyone in the country was to have an income of zero, we would be judged to have eradicated poverty altogether. That flawed measure highlights the failings of the previous Government, with their concentration on income transfer rather than on addressing the root causes of poverty, namely low aspirations and worklessness.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question and it is right that we should, if possible, move away from a purely mathematical calculation of poverty that aims to move a group of people from just below a level to just above a level. We should try to define poverty in more general terms and then deal with the causes of poverty. Speaking from memory, I think my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is proposing to change how poverty is measured in exactly the direction my hon. Friend proposes.

Can we be assured that we will get an oral statement to the House from the Secretary of State for Health next Wednesday, when the Safe and Sustainable review into children’s heart surgery is published? Recent documents suggest that, even now, proper account is not being taken of the independent figures that clearly suggest that certain units will not achieve the 400 units necessary, whereas Leeds will. With that lack of confidence in the process, we need a clear statement from a Minister.

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern and, as I understand it, a report or review is to be published next Wednesday. I cannot promise my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will make an oral statement on that day, but I am sure that he will want to respond to the review in the most appropriate way.