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Business of the House

Volume 552: debated on Thursday 1 November 2012

The business for next will be:

Monday 5 November—Second Reading of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill.

Tuesday 6 November—Second Reading of the European Union (Croatian Accession and Irish Protocol) Bill, followed by motion to approve European documents relating to banking union and economic and monetary union.

Wednesday 7 November—Opposition day (8th allotted day). There will be a debate on regional pay in the NHS, followed by a further debate on a subject to be announced. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Thursday 8 November—A debate on a motion relating to the medium-term financial plan for the House of Commons administration and savings programme, followed by a general debate on stimulating growth through better use of the prompt payment code. The subjects for these debates have been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 9 November—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

Monday 12 November—Opposition day (9th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Tuesday 13 November—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

I should also like to inform the House of business in Westminster Hall:

Thursday 22 November—A debate on the Transport Select Committee’s report on air travel organisers’ licensing reform, followed by a debate on the Committee’s report on flight time limitations.

Thursday 6 December—A debate on fisheries.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week.

Last week, I welcomed the new Chief Whip to his position. This week, I should congratulate him on another parliamentary record. John Wakeham, his predecessor, lost a Commons vote within 40 days in the job; this Chief Whip has done it in only 13 days. At least his experience in John Major’s Cabinet means that he knows what it is like to serve under a weak Prime Minister who is unable to control his parliamentary party.

Yesterday lunchtime, the Prime Minister said he was in favour of cutting the EU budget, but yesterday evening he voted against cutting the EU budget. It says something about his unique negotiating strategy that he thinks he strengthens his position by voting against the very thing he says he will argue for; and it says something about his approach to party management that, ahead of last night’s vote, he told his Back Benchers—in colourful terms—that the House

“is not some…sixth-form debating society”.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister said the Government were seeking a real-terms cut in the EU budget, but today the Deputy Prime Minister has ruled that out. Who speaks for the Government?

Two weeks ago, the House voted against the scrapping of 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, and the Government ignored the vote; last week, the House voted against the badger cull and the Government carry on regardless; but they must not ignore the vote of the House last night—after all, this is not a “sixth-form debating society”. May we therefore have an urgent statement from the Foreign Secretary on what steps the Government will now take?

I am afraid I owe the House an apology. Last week, I tipped Flashman for the 4.25 at Doncaster, but when it came to it Flashman over-promised and under-delivered. He turned out to be a great disappointment. There is a lesson in that for Conservative Back Benchers: don’t waste your money on a gelding called Flashman.

Back in September, the Prime Minister announced with great fanfare that he was setting up a growth implementation committee. He said it would be

“a forum which will be focused on implementation and driving implementation.”

When asked, the Business Secretary—vice-chair of the committee—could not remember its even being set up. So unmemorable and unimportant was the committee on “driving implementation” that the Business Secretary’s officials had to remind him that the committee had in fact met twice and that he had been there. There we have it: the PR Prime Minister announces by press release a drive for growth, and nothing happens.

It is no wonder that, halfway through the life of this Government, they had to ask Lord Heseltine to report on how to drive economic growth. His report concluded:

“the UK does not have a strategy for growth”.

They did not need to ask Lord Heseltine to find that out. So far, we have had a growth implementation committee and a growth report, and next week we will debate the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, but since the Government were formed and over the entire period they have been in office, the economy has grown in total by just 0.6%. Whether plan B or plan H, the Government need a plan for growth, so may we have an urgent statement from the Chancellor on what the Government are doing to implement the report’s recommendations?

The Conservative Energy Minister said this week about onshore wind farms that “enough is enough”. Hours later, up popped his boss, the Liberal Democrat Secretary of State, to announce the opposite. For good measure, a “source” told the Guardian that the errant Energy Minister “has been very silly”. We clearly need an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change so that we can find out precisely what this Government’s policy on onshore wind farms really is, because it did not become any clearer in today’s questions. We also need an assurance that his junior Minister will not contradict the policy the day after it is announced.

Then there is Trident. This week, the Defence Secretary announced one position, and then the Deputy Prime Minister announced a different one. We have not heard from the Leader of the House on the subject, so maybe he would like to announce a third.

This week we have had two defence policies and two wind farm policies and today we have got two EU budget policies. Even a sixth-form debating society would do better than this.

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her tip last week, but I was looking forward to one this week. It turns out that all we get from the Labour party is a non-starter. The hon. Lady has to get it right—if the horse does not run, you keep your money, and that is what we are going to do. We are going to keep the money.

The hon. Lady is right: we are not a sixth-form debating society, but people might have thought differently from the way the Labour party approached yesterday’s debate. It was a classic of student politics—do one thing and say another. This is a party which in government saw the EU budget rise by 47%. It said it would go and negotiate toughly on the budget, but gave away the rebate and saw the budget go up by £8 billion. That is not a party that has any credibility. On the contrary, our Prime Minister will go to those negotiations looking for a cut, not—as the shadow Leader said—aiming for no cut. We have already started with the toughest position ever achieved in relation to the EU budget, with the Prime Minister already having done what the Labour party talked about but never did—creating allies in Europe for constraining the EU budget, as he did in December 2010. Contrary to what the Labour party says, the Prime Minister is prepared to use the veto on the EU budget if necessary, whereas Labour says it would not.

The hon. Lady did ask a question—I always search for them. She asked whether the Chancellor would make a statement about Lord Heseltine’s report “No Stone Unturned”. The Prime Minister and Chancellor commissioned that report and welcomed it. It rightly stressed that we are on the right track. Anyone who knows Michael Heseltine well—as I do—will recognise that he always wants to be pushing forward, and that is what we will do. The Chancellor will make the autumn statement on 5 December and show how we are taking forward growth, because from our point of view it is vital to achieve growth in the economy.

The hon. Lady asked about Trident. All that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence was doing was announcing the next phase of what was announced back in May in relation to the design and development process. There was nothing new or exceptional about that. The shadow Leader of the House seems to have written her response to the business statement before she came to the House to listen to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change respond to questions. He and his Ministers could not have been clearer. We are achieving improvements in renewable and green technologies in ways that Labour could only dream of.

I remind the shadow Leader of the House that she told her constituents in the Wirral News yesterday that

“we desperately need…some good news on the economy.”

I find that astonishing. Does she not realise that we have reduced Labour’s deficit by a quarter? Under this Government, there are more than 1 million more people working in the private sector and an increase in employment of 750,000. The number of people claiming the main out-of-work benefits has fallen by 170,000. Furthermore, 950,000 people have started apprenticeships in the past two years, and more new businesses have been created than in any other year on record. That is happening under this Government. Only Labour believes in a plan B— B for borrowing!

Order. As usual, a large number of hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. If I am to accommodate anywhere near all of them, in the light of the important and heavily subscribed Back-Bench business to follow, brevity from Back and Front Benchers alike will be vital. We can be led in this important parliamentary endeavour by the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, Mr Charles Walker.

May we find time for an urgent debate on the shocking performance of the East of England ambulance service? I am in no doubt that the performance of the chairman, Maria Ball, and the chief executive, Hayden Newton, is falling well short of acceptable.

May I take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend on his election to the chairmanship of the Procedure Committee and say how much we look forward to working with him in discharging our business efficiently and effectively and in making the procedures of the House increasingly accessible, so that the public can engage with what the House does?

I am addressing Mr Speaker, if that is all right with the hon. Gentleman, as I think I am required to do.

The East of England ambulance service, like all other ambulance trusts across the country, has for the first time met all its category A response times, but it is important that it continue to do so right across the territory, not just on an aggregate basis. It is important for colleagues to raise this matter, and my hon. Friend and his colleagues might have the opportunity to pursue it in an Adjournment debate.

Last week, the Leader of the House’s successor in the Department of Health made some strong comments in the media about the need to improve the regulatory regime around medical implants. The Science and Technology Committee has just published an important report on this subject. Given the anxiety among the public, may we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State so he can explain what he is doing about this important subject?

Given my knowledge of these subjects, the hon. Gentleman will know that although I recognise that his Committee’s report is an important contribution, my noble Friend Lord Howe and other Health Ministers have never regarded this matter as anything other than important and urgent, and I am sure that they will endeavour to inform the House fully of any matters that arise. Their work not only in response to the breast implant scandal but, in particular, on how hip implants are regulated is proceeding apace.

May we have an early debate on the lack of accountability of NHS foundation trusts? The Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals Foundation Trust is proposing to merge with the Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. The Office of Fair Trading has given a two-week opportunity for public comment, but the trust has refused to supply me, under the Freedom of Information Act, with the 50-page document purporting to set out the public benefits. Without that document, it is very difficult for a Member of Parliament to comment constructively on the merits or otherwise of such a proposed merger. Is this not an outrage?

My hon. Friend will recall that the arrangements reducing the accountability of NHS foundation trusts to this House were established in legislation passed under the last Government, but in the future the NHS competition provisions will be transferred from the OFT to Monitor, which should enhance accountability. He raises an important point, however, about the application of the Freedom of Information Act to NHS foundation trusts, and I will ask my colleagues in the Department of Health to respond to that matter.

Health professionals say that 125 amputations occur weekly owing to diabetes, yet 80% are preventable. The National Audit Office says that we could save £34 million annually if late referrals to specialist teams were halved. In the interests of patients and NHS budgets, may we have a debate on how to prevent amputations from diabetes?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I do not recall: does he have an early-day motion on this matter?

I hope there will be opportunities to discuss these issues. The hon. Gentleman might talk to his colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench. Instead of a debate on regional pay in the NHS, which is not proposed, he might have invited his colleagues to have a debate on improving outcomes in the NHS, which is what this Government are setting out to do. Where diabetes is concerned, that is one of our priorities.

Order. Can the hon. Gentleman assure me that he was present in the Chamber at the start of the Leader of the House’s statement?

May we have an urgent debate on the nonsense of empty properties having to pay rates? It is hugely damaging and is preventing business. Wharfebank business centre in my constituency renovates old mill space to provide wonderful office space. The business is desperate for tenants, yet it cannot renovate further space, because if it does it will be forced to pay full rates on it. It does not make sense and is holding back growth.

Many Members will be aware of this issue, and my hon. Friend makes an important point. I will not dwell on the arguments, but he might note that, given the importance of the issue to small businesses, there will be an opportunity to consider it in the context of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, which I have announced is due for debate on Monday.

I draw the House’s attention to my indirect interests, in relation to this question and the one I asked in Energy and Climate Change questions.

The NAO report “Managing the impact of Housing Benefit reform”, which is published today, makes it clear that private and social rents are rising fast—private rents in the south-west are expected to rise by 48% in the next eight years—and that the housing benefit budget is rocketing as more people in work find it more difficult to meet their housing costs. May we have a debate on the report and the desperate failure of the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Communities and Local Government to understand the implications of their own shambolic policies?

I do not recognise what the hon. Lady describes as the view inside the Department for Work and Pensions, which is well aware of the necessity of reducing what under the last Government became the ballooning costs of housing benefit, but in a way that recognises the difficulties that people may have. That is why the Government are providing additional funding, totalling £190 million, to smooth the transition over the next five years. If the hon. Lady wishes to raise the matter again, there will be opportunities to do so at Work and Pensions questions on Monday.

The 6 December is the 30th anniversary of the Ballykelly bombing, when 17 people were killed—murdered, rather. Six of them were civilians and 11 were soldiers, six of whom were from my company. May I ask the Leader of the House, on our behalf, to note this very sad anniversary and, on behalf of all of us, to pass on our thoughts to the relatives, who are still grieving after 30 years?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this, as I think colleagues across the House will be. It is important that we take opportunities in this House not only to debate current issues but sometimes to stand back and to recognise and commemorate losses in the past. The sadness of those losses lasts to this day and will continue to do so.

Following the question from the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), next week marks the 25th anniversary of the Poppy Day massacre in Enniskillen, in which 11 people were murdered by the IRA. Clearly the House will want to join me in expressing condolences to the victims and their families. Today’s dastardly news of the murder of a prison officer by terrorists in Northern Ireland reminds the entire House that the battle against terrorism and for democracy and freedom continues in Northern Ireland and across this kingdom. We wish to send our condolences and sympathy to the family of the victim this morning.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman; he is absolutely right. Members across the House know that we must never relent in the fight against terrorism. Equally, building democracy and creating the opportunities for people to take charge of their own destiny in a way that is peaceful in the long term is something that we have all contributed to and that we all support.

May we have debate on localism? In a referendum with a 49% turnout in Menston in my constituency, 98% of those who voted opposed a proposed 300-house development in that village. However, Labour and Lib Dem councillors from other parts of the Bradford district came in and voted to impose that housing development on the village, which was clearly against the express wishes of the local people. Until the Government resolve issues such as these, localism will seem like a pipe dream to my constituents.

I understand my hon. Friend’s point. In my experience, we should have more locally led planning decisions, which this Government are making possible. Also, local authorities’ use of neighbourhood plans can give further force to local decision making, but that has to be pursued within each local authority.

Sir Howard Davies has been appointed by the Government to look into aviation. Lord Heseltine, echoing the call from the shadow Secretary of State for Transport, says that the report due in 2015 will be far too slow in arriving, and Mayor Boris Johnson is threatening legal action against the Government if they do not advance that timetable. Is there any indication from the Department for Transport that it will be issuing a statement accepting that advice and bringing forward the report earlier?

Ministers have been clear about the nature of the complexities involved and the task required of Sir Howard Davies, and said that an interim report will be available next year.

May we have an early debate on career progression opportunities for black and minority ethnic employees in the health and care sector? There are hundreds of thousands of BME employees at the lower levels, but it would be good to see more at the higher levels, where there is just a handful at the moment.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I do not have an immediate opportunity for a debate on that subject, but he might like to pursue the matter through other routes, such as an Adjournment debate. This is an important issue. I know how important it is that the national health service should pursue equality and diversity policies that are truly effective. To that end, I will ask my colleagues in the Department of Health to contact my hon. Friend to tell him how they are doing that.

Despite having had three spare hours of debating time on Tuesday, the House has still done nothing effective to hold the Department of Health to account for its lack of action on the alleged abuses by Jimmy Savile on NHS premises. Those three hours could have been used to question the lack of an independent inquiry, and to ask why the Department believes that internal reviews overseen by NHS insiders are sufficient when abuses against children and vulnerable patients are being alleged. The Leader of the Opposition has called for a single independent inquiry. Will the Leader of the House now allocate available time for a debate on this vital issue?

I do not have time immediately available for a debate on the investigations and inquiries relating to Jimmy Savile. Indeed, it might be difficult to hold such a debate while police investigations are taking place. None the less, I will of course ask my right hon. Friends to reply to the hon. Lady on this. I would also say, as someone who knows Kate Lampard, that I am sure she will conduct her investigations in relation to the NHS independently and effectively.

Will my right hon. Friend grant us a debate on the employment figures? The Opposition seem to want to do down those figures, but I would particularly like to celebrate the fact that there are more women in employment now than ever before.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is important to recognise that, if employment were not rising, Labour Members would have been the first to say that we should debate the matter. Instead, they dwell on bad news. Such, I suppose, is the nature of opposition. They seem to be wallowing in that kind of thing. They seem to like being in opposition, and I think we will leave them there for a long time. My hon. Friend is absolutely right, however. The increase in employment, especially among women, and the reduction in youth unemployment are things that we should take the opportunity to celebrate.

May we have a statement from the appropriate Minister on Government endeavours to help get back from the US the UK citizens who are stranded there because of the hurricane? I am particularly concerned about a party of 38 school girls from Leicester high school who are stranded in New York. They have been offered a flight on Tuesday, but the problem is that many of them have exams next week, so may we have a statement and will the Government look at ways of getting those schoolgirls back in time for those exams?

Ministers from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office were here answering questions on Tuesday, when I think this issue might have arisen. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. There are probably something approaching 50,000 British nationals in the most affected parts of the United States. The events, the damage, the distress and the loss of life and livelihood in America are dreadful. One of our responsibilities is to do as the hon. Gentleman asked and offer consular assistance wherever possible for those who need it, so I will contact my colleagues in the FCO to see if they can respond to him.

May we have a debate on unemployment? In my constituency, Dover and Deal have seen unemployment rocketing over the last Parliament. The latest quarterly claimant count figures are welcome, showing a decrease of 5%. That is a great result, but we should look at what more we can do to win the war on unemployment.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In that context, support for the Work programme is terrifically important. It is an unprecedented campaign to help the longer-term unemployed to get back into work. Encouraging as those employment figures were, we know that a substantial number of people have been out of work for some considerable time. The Work programme is directed to that, and 693,000 people are already accessing support through it.

May we have a debate on communication between Government Departments and Members of Parliament with regard to individual constituents’ issues? Until recently, I have had named individuals in the Department for Work and Pensions whom my office could contact to discuss benefit inquiries on behalf of very vulnerable individuals, but I have now been told to contact the general inquiry line. At a time when, thanks to this Government’s draconian policies, DWP offices are inundated with inquiries from vulnerable people, this is not an adequate response.

I was not aware of any reduction of such facilities, but I will of course talk to my colleagues in the DWP. I know from conversations I have had with them that they are looking for Members to continue to be able to access dedicated support in looking after their constituents’ interests, but I will take a personal interest in the matter and ask DWP colleagues to reply to the hon. Lady.

Tragically, in 2006 Captain James Philippson was killed in Helmand province. Disturbingly, a year later, the Ministry of Defence blamed my constituent, Army Major Jonny Bristow, for his death, yet in 2007, a coroner’s inquest exonerated Major Bristow of any wrongdoing and, indeed, identified a lack of proper equipment supplied by the Ministry of Defence at the time. May we have a statement from the Defence Secretary about the lack of equipment that used to exist for our troops in Afghanistan and about the way in which the Ministry of Defence handles its justice procedures?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this clearly important issue. I am aware that Major Bristow has submitted a formal service complaint, and I understand that the Ministry of Defence is in direct contact with him. That complaint is ongoing and is being considered at the highest level within the Army’s internal complaints mechanism. I am sure that my hon. Friend would not expect me to comment—it would be inappropriate for me to do so—while that process is continuing. He has had the opportunity to put the matter on the record; I will raise it with my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Ministry of Defence and ensure that they are made aware of it.

My hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House was correct to mention the confusion at the heart of government with regard to the Cabinet Growth Implementation Committee. If that Committee has met twice, why have the Government refused to answer my parliamentary question about its membership? May we have an urgent statement on the membership of this Committee, when it has met and what will be on the agenda for its next meeting?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman appears not to be aware that the document listing the members of Committees and Cabinet Committees was published on Tuesday. He could have seen it already.

The number of my constituents who are waiting more than six months for the UK Border Agency to process their applications for indefinite leave to remain is on the increase. May we have a statement on the agency’s performance in that regard, and also an explanation for the delays?

I will of course ask my colleagues at the Home Office to respond to the specific point that my hon. Friend has raised, but let me say to all Members that we are continuously trying to improve the Border Agency’s performance. I hope that the Government will look for opportunities to update the House as soon as possible.

Against the backdrop of growing concern about the fact that the local economic partnership strategy is simply not working, may we have an early debate on the Heseltine growth strategy paper? It contains radical proposals, not least for the shifting of resources from the centre of localities and a fundamental shake-up of local government. This is urgent, and we cannot wait for the Chancellor’s December statement.

I do not think for a minute that we are waiting for the autumn statement. Things are already happening. For example, the local enterprise partnerships are established, and 24 enterprise zones have been set up across the country. On the Friday before last the Deputy Prime Minister announced regional growth fund allocations for hundreds of projects all over the country, totalling more than £1 billion, and more than 60% of the projects in rounds 1 and 2 are up and running.

The St James’s street area of central Brighton is very important to the social life of the city. May we have a debate about the importance of city centres to the cultural and economic life of their communities, and about the need for the police to maintain order in such locations?

Yes. I cannot identify an immediate opportunity for such a debate, but my hon. Friend’s point about the vibrancy of city centres is important, and I think that many Members will share his view. The policing aspect is part of a wider issue, namely the need to ensure that people feel that they can go to such places confidently and in safety.

I hope that there will be an opportunity for the debate for which my hon. Friend has asked, but he may wish to look for one himself. For instance, it may be possible for him to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

May we have a statement on the continuing mystery and whiff surrounding the decision by the former Secretary of State for International Development to restore aid to Rwanda? During international development questions yesterday, the present Secretary of State confirmed that the humanitarian situation in eastern Congo had worsened, but also said that she understood the decision to have been made on the basis of officials’ advice. May we have a statement so that that advice can be published and we can all see exactly what happened?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Prime Minister responded to a question about that on the Wednesday before last. However, I understand that the former International Development Secretary is due to give evidence to the International Development Committee, which will provide an opportunity for the position to be set out very clearly.

The interest rate swap mis-selling scandal, to which Members on both sides of the House have drawn attention, resulted in the setting up of a redress scheme by the Financial Services Authority. May we have a debate on the issue in Government time before Christmas, once the pilot programme for the scheme has been completed?

The issue of redress is important. As my hon. Friend knows, it is important for the pilot scheme for the review process to be completed—although it has now been extended for two weeks—and to focus on the need to provide redress for customers, when appropriate, as swiftly as possible, because of the impact on small businesses of the mis-selling of interest rate hedging products. I will ask my colleagues whether there will be any opportunities for the issue to be raised in a debate—I am not aware of one at present—but the hon. Gentleman should consider using the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, for instance, as a mechanism enabling him to raise the issue more extensively.

Last week an individual collapsed suddenly right outside Hamilton jobcentre. A constituent of mine went to the aid of the individual and asked the jobcentre staff to phone for an ambulance. They refused to do so, citing rules that they were not allowed to call ambulances for outside their premises. May we have a statement from the Department for Work and Pensions on this appalling situation so that we can have common decency, good sense and even, perhaps, life-saving activity, rather than adherence to strange rules?

The hon. Gentleman will understand that I am not aware of those circumstances, but I will, of course, talk to my DWP colleagues so that they can investigate what happened and respond to him.

May we have an urgent debate on how to stop unnecessary EU regulations strangling UK businesses? My constituent Mr Hart from Leighton Buzzard is faced with losing his car transporter business because of EU regulation 1071, despite the fact that the Department for Transport has confirmed that there is no evidence for this whatever.

My hon. Friend will be aware that the EU regulation he cites came into force in December last year, so the flexibility to exempt vehicles and small trailers of up to 6 tonnes that existed under the previous EU directive is no longer permitted. That adds burdens to some businesses using small trailers, but my hon. Friend will also be aware that vehicle and trailer combinations of over 3.5 tonnes that carry their own goods can still make use of the small trailer exemption. I hope that is some small comfort.

The unemployment rate in the north-east is almost 10%, which is the highest rate in the entire country. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the state of the economy in the north-east?

The hon. Lady might like to talk to her colleagues about holding a debate on the economy in Opposition time. I have encouraged the shadow Leader of the House to consider that over the past two or three weeks, as good news on the economy has been emerging, which she has signally failed to recognise in her communications with her constituents. The hon. Lady, or her other colleagues representing north-east constituencies, might like to seek an opportunity to raise the topic of the economy on a regional basis in an Adjournment debate, when they could celebrate the fact that on Friday the Deputy Prime Minister announced £120 million, I think, of the regional growth fund round 3 moneys for the north-east, which is the largest sum of regional growth fund moneys.

Many bank complaints are not dealt with internally by banks, but are referred to the financial ombudsman, causing massive delays and adverse credit ratings for individuals, including my constituent Mr Ashley. Will the Leader of the House make time for a statement on the complaints procedures of banks and the performance of the financial ombudsman?

I fear, Mr Speaker, that I am at risk of repeating a number of times that there is an opportunity to raise issues with the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. It is examining a very important area, and it could consider the topic my hon. Friend raises. I will also make sure that we take it into account as we look at opportunities for discussions relating to banking, perhaps as legislation on banking reform comes forward in the new year.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on transparency in pay and taxation, because I am sure the House would like an opportunity to debate recent reports that the interim chief executive of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is being paid off the books through a company, thus, one assumes, saving a great deal in tax and national insurance contributions? Could we also then debate why IPSA, an organisation dedicated to transparency, refuses to publish details of these arrangements and say to its press officers that no matter how many stories they then leak, we will keep raising this issue?

I remind the hon. Lady that we will—not immediately, but at a future date—have an opportunity to discuss the appointments of further lay members to IPSA, which might enable her to raise such issues. On the specific point about the temporary chief executive, I should point out that it was very much a temporary appointment, with a contract for a short period of time, and those are precisely the circumstances in which, as is the case in business life, one would tend to have a special contracting procedure.

With help from the Government and the Mayor of London, Croydon council is today announcing a package of nearly £9 million to regenerate west Croydon and the London road area, which was so badly affected by last year’s riots. However, many businesses are still waiting for compensation through the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 or from their insurance companies. May we have a debate about how government—local and national—and the insurance industry have helped the areas affected by those riots?

I am sure that the House will welcome what my hon. Friends says about the support being given by Croydon council to west Croydon as a consequence of the riots. I will ask my colleagues at the Home Office to write to him about what is being done in relation to the Riot (Damages) Act.

In the past few days, a number of important reports have been published, including one from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggesting that far from lifting people out of poverty, universal credit may leave them in poverty, and one from Gingerbread saying that universal credit will not get more single parents back to work. So will the Leader of the House make time during Government business to discuss those important reports?

The hon. Lady will be aware that there will be Work and Pensions questions on Monday, which is one occasion when this matter can be raised. She referred to a number of reports, so may I draw her attention to the one from the Resolution Foundation, which rightly pointed out how important it is for low-income and middle-income households in this country to move from dependence on benefits into work? Work is the best solution to poverty.

The independent Safe and Sustainable review into children’s heart units has recommended that Bristol children’s hospital be designated as one of the centres of excellence, but yesterday it became clear that the Care Quality Commission has issued a formal warning about staffing levels on one of its cardiac wards. That has resulted in a reduced programme of cardiac surgery. Many of us have had grave concerns about the validity of the Safe and Sustainable review’s decision. May we have a statement on this, because the warning raises new concerns, and means that the review’s decisions are now dangerously flawed and that all confidence in them has been lost?

My hon. Friend will be aware, not least from the debates that have taken place in Westminster Hall, that following the Safe and Sustainable review, which was carried out as an independent review within the NHS of child heart surgery, and the referral of these matters to the Secretary of State, he has asked the independent reconfiguration panel to look at the review’s recommendations. So, if I may, I will not trespass on the panel further than that.

Last night, the Government were attempting to argue that there should be public expenditure cuts in all member states of the European Union but not in the EU itself. This morning, the Government seem to have changed their position somewhat. May we have a debate about precisely what the Government’s position is now on the EU budget?

I think that the House heard from right hon. Friends very clearly what the Government’s position is. The Government will listen to and hear what the House said in yesterday’s debate and vote. As I said earlier, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will set out at the European Council to deliver the very best deal he can for this country. He has already demonstrated his determination to do that by building alliances on the EU budget and by his willingness to use the veto, if necessary.

Please may we have a debate about Government investment in skills training, particularly on what further can be done to tailor it to the needs of young people who have not yet been able to get a job, despite the encouraging economic news recently, including the news from my constituency, where the youth unemployment rate is 3.5% and falling?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, not least in relation to the commendable enterprise in his constituency. I draw the House’s attention to what is really important about the Youth Contract, launched by the Deputy Prime Minister, which is its fantastic range of support for young people. In addition to apprenticeships, it involves: 250,000 work experience or sector-based work academy places; 160,000 wage incentives to take on 18 to 24-year-olds; 20,000 incentive payments specifically to support additional young apprenticeships; and £126 million to support the hardest to reach 16 and 17-year-olds. The Youth Contract will make the biggest difference we have seen yet in helping young people into work experience and then into work.

I know that the House will be saddened and outraged in equal measure to learn of the dastardly murder of a prison officer this morning in Northern Ireland, ambushed on his way along a motorway in our country. Given that that happened 10 days after the security threat level was reassessed across the whole United Kingdom, will the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland comes to the House at her earliest convenience and makes a statement about the current security threat level in Ulster and what she is doing about it?

The House will share the hon. Gentleman’s sense of shock and outrage in relation to that death. My understanding—I am happy to correct this if I am wrong—is that the Home Secretary made it clear that there was a change in the security assessment for mainland Britain, but not for Northern Ireland. I will talk to my hon. Friends at the Home Office, who continuously consider and assess these matters.

Today is the first day of Movember, and who can forget the transformation in a previous year of the Deputy Leader of the House into Tom Selleck? Can time be set aside for a debate on men’s health and awareness of prostate and testicular cancer in particular? We need to do all we can to overcome men’s reluctance to discuss these issues and drive down the high number of preventable deaths.

My hon. Friend makes an important point and I share his view. I hope that tens of thousands of people across the country will demonstrate their support for Movember. We need to ensure that there is just as much recognition of the symptoms and of the necessity of seeking medical advice and diagnosis for cancers that affect men, particularly prostate and testicular cancer, as there is about breast cancer for women. In the past, we have made some successful steps forward on breast cancer that have led to improvements in diagnosis and survival for women, and we now want to see that happening for men with prostate cancer.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that there have been a number of questions asked about the poor performance of London Midland trains, particularly in the west midlands. Despite that, their performance continues to be absolutely atrocious. Given London Midland’s habitual underperformance, will the Transport Secretary make a statement on how that pitiful situation can be resolved?

My hon. Friend will know that London Midland has been experiencing a high level of cancellations for about two months now. London Midland is not yet technically in breach of its obligations, but if improvements are not seen in very short order, the Department for Transport will need to consider taking action against the train operator. I will talk to my colleagues and ensure that they update relevant and interested Members.

Earls high school, an excellent academy in my constituency, recently received a grant from a local company to invest in an innovative scheme to teach primary school children mathematics. May we have a debate on what more the Government can do to encourage innovative teaching methods, particularly in maths and science?

I will, of course, talk to my colleagues at the Department for Education about whether and when we might have an opportunity to do that. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was in Cambridge to talk to the department of mathematics there to see precisely how we can ensure improvements in mathematics teaching and I know that he, like my hon. Friend, is very exercised about improving standards in that respect. I shall seek advice about when we might be able to debate that further.

I understand that this week the House of Commons Commission met to discuss the future of this great building. Will the Leader of the House clarify when Members will be given the opportunity to have some input into those considerations?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is right that the House of Commons Commission and the House Committee in the other place considered the internal study group report. In this House, we took the clear view that we know our responsibilities are to ensure the efficient and effective delivery of the business of this House while protecting a building that is vital, historically and otherwise, and protecting value for money. We have asked collectively for further challenging work to be done on those options. Part of that challenge will be to ensure that the House of Commons Commission and the House Committee know well and fully the views of members of both Houses about the options.

Last year my constituent Rebecca Coriam went missing from a Bahamian-registered Disney cruise ship off the coast of Mexico. The Bahamas authorities have apparently conducted an investigation and provided a summary to Cheshire police but, despite assurances given to me personally by the high commissioner, they have not granted the police permission to release it to Rebecca’s family. May we have a debate on the appalling record of some Governments to investigate thoroughly and openly incidents on ships flying flags of convenience?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to pursue the interests of his constituents as fully and rigorously as he can. As the ship in question was off the Mexican coast, Foreign and Commonwealth Office consular staff have been actively pursuing the initial police report from the Mexican authorities and, as he knows, are in contact with the family, Cheshire police and relevant local authorities. He also raises the issue of ships flying flags of convenience, and I will raise that with colleagues at the Department for Transport and ask them to get in touch with him about it.

The Leader of the House has witnessed for himself the large number of Back Benchers who come to the Backbench Business Committee and seen the high quality, topicality and importance of the debates brought to us. As a business manager, he will also be aware that Government business sometimes collapses before the full allotted time. Will he work with the Committee to ensure that precious parliamentary time is put to best use and to see whether Back-Bench business debates can be slotted in on those occasions when it is quite predictable that Government business might collapse?

As a relatively new business manager, I will of course be very glad to discuss these matters with colleagues, not least the House authorities and my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker)—he is no longer in his place—who chairs the Procedure Committee. [Interruption.] I know, as does the hon. Lady, that there are circumstances in which it is proper to allow time for debate and not proper to assume that there will not be a substantive debate on an issue that will take all the time available, so it can sometimes be difficult to anticipate when business will finish sooner than it might otherwise do.

The improved economic figures are clearly welcome, but it is important that we improve our trade with developing nations. The Indian state of Gujarat has achieved record year-on-year growth, yet its First Minister, Narendra Modi, was denied access to the UK by the previous Government. May we have a statement from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office facilitating a state visit by Shri Narendra Modi to this country so that we can hear at first hand what wonders he has performed in Gujarat?

I will, of course, talk with colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills about what opportunities there might be to look at Gujarat’s economic performance, but I remind my hon. Friend that, as he probably knows, over the past two years British exports of goods have increased to China by 72%, to India by 94% and to Russia by 109%. The Government are only too conscious of the importance of developing our trade with these leading emerging economies and will continue to give that real push.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on local jobs fairs? I am holding a jobs fair in Tamworth tomorrow, where 40 employers, local and national, big and small, are coming to offer jobs to local people. I think that a debate would highlight the value of such fairs and the role that Members of Parliament can play in helping our communities get into work.

Yes. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the steps he is taking and am sure that his constituents really value his support for the jobs fair. It is vitally important. We all know how frustrating it is that there are continuing and persistent levels of long-term unemployment in circumstances in which the number of vacancies is approaching 500,000, so providing opportunities for people who are out of work to find work is something we can all support and work towards.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 669?

[That this House notes the Chancellor’s strong support for motorists thus far, in particular the 1p cut in fuel duty in 2011 and the overall freeze in fuel duty that has lasted for two years; urges the Government to stop the 3p fuel duty rise planned for January 2013; and believes that this is an issue of social justice, as highlighted by the website, showing that a 3p petrol tax will cost motorists an extra £60 at the pumps in 2013 and the Office for National Statistics, which shows that fuel duty is regressive, hitting poorest citizens the hardest.]

The 3p fuel duty rise in January will cost motorists £60 next year; for anyone who has to drive to work, that undoes one third of the benefit of raising the tax threshold. Will my right hon. Friend do everything possible to lobby the Treasury to stop the January rise and may we have a debate on the cost of living and fuel duty?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; I have indeed seen his early-day motion. He will know, and it is important to remember, that as a result of the steps that the Government, not least Treasury Ministers, have taken, pump prices are now approximately 10p per litre lower than if we had stuck with the Labour party’s plans. That is tremendously important.

On the cost of living, if somebody is on the minimum wage and in full-time work, the effect of the increase in allowances coming through in April next year will be to halve the income tax that they pay. That, too, is an important point about the cost of living, among other things.