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Business of the House

Volume 554: debated on Thursday 29 November 2012

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 3 December—General debate on the Leveson inquiry.

Tuesday 4 December—Remaining stages of the Public Service Pensions Bill, followed by motion relating to the appointment of Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority board members.

Wednesday 5 December—The Chancellor of the Exchequer will present his autumn statement, followed by consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Police (Complaints and Conduct) Bill.

Thursday 6 December—A debate on a motion relating to the 40th anniversary of the expulsion of Ugandan Asians, followed by general debate on defence personnel.

The subjects for these debates have been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

The provisional business for the week commencing 10 December will include:

Monday 10 December—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Financial Services Bill.

Tuesday 11 December—General debate on public expenditure.

Wednesday 12 December—Opposition day (12th allotted day, first part). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced, followed by business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Thursday 13 December—Motions relating to standards and privileges, followed by business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

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

The flooding across England and Wales this week has caused widespread chaos and, sadly, a number of deaths. I would like to add my tribute on the work of the emergency services and all those involved in providing assistance to those affected.

The increasing frequency of serious weather affecting the UK underlines the importance of robust flood defences, yet spending on flood defences has been cut by a quarter, delaying much-needed schemes. Even the Government’s own advisory Committee on Climate Change warned in July that Ministers are not doing enough, and now hundreds of thousands of people risk being unable to obtain insurance because the Government have not reached an agreement with the industry. We welcome the statement earlier in the week from the Environment Secretary, but will the Leader of the House find time for an urgent debate on measures to protect people across the UK from flooding, especially in light of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report published today?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for arranging a statement by the Foreign Secretary on Palestinian statehood —something I asked for last week. At business questions last week I also raised the matter of the Liberal Democrat party member who masqueraded as an independent in the police and crime commissioner elections. I asked for an urgent statement, but unfortunately the Leader of the House has not been able to find time for one. I wonder whether he will reconsider, however, because I have managed to get hold of a letter put out by the Liberal Democrat candidate standing in today’s Middlesbrough by-election. In it he says,

“things seem to be getting worse, not better.”

I have read the letter very carefully, but, by some strange omission, nowhere does it mention that the Liberal Democrats have been in government for the last two and a half years, so will the Leader of the House now find time for a statement on cynical electoral subterfuge?

We are all looking forward to the publication of the Leveson report later today. During business questions on 28 June, I asked:

“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?”—[Official Report, 28 June 2012; Vol. 547, c. 448.]

I must confess that I meant that suggestion to be parody, but yesterday the Deputy Prime Minister made a request to have a separate statement from the Prime Minister on the Leveson report and I see today that that has been granted. What on earth is happening to collective responsibility? I notice that the play “Yes, Prime Minister” is leaving the Trafalgar theatre to go on a UK tour, but with this Government in office there will at least still be one farce running in Whitehall.

The Government have been struggling to get their legislation through the House of Lords. This Government’s peers easily outnumber Opposition peers, yet for the entire duration of the Labour Government our peers never made up more than 29% of the total. May I say to the Leader of the House that the problem the Government have is not with the quantity of their peers, it is with the quality of their legislation?

There have been reports in the media that the Prime Minister is planning to create 100 additional peers, despite the fact that the House of Lords is already the second biggest legislature in the world—after the equally democratic Chinese National People’s Congress. Filling the House of Lords might be the only successful job creation scheme this Government have come up with, but will the Leader of the House find time for an urgent statement on the seemingly inexorable expansion of the second Chamber?

Word reaches me that this week’s Cabinet meeting was even more fractious than usual. Apparently, the Chancellor blamed the Culture Secretary for failing to deliver on the Government’s promise to roll out superfast broadband and the Culture Secretary blamed her predecessor, with her aides saying that she had done more in two months than the current Health Secretary had managed in two years. Astonishingly, the welfare Minister, Lord Freud, blamed the Chancellor for the abject failure of the Work programme and the Prime Minister blamed the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government for the failure of enterprise zones. While Cabinet members bicker, we have a broadband network that is not connected, a job scheme that is not working and enterprise zones where there is no enterprise, while the only growth strategy they have is for the House of Lords.

The Prime Minister called himself the “heir to Blair”, but is he not just the natural successor to Jim Hacker?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her remarks about the Foreign Secretary’s statement on Palestine. I join her in paying tribute to the emergency services and the work of Environment Agency staff in supporting communities that have been so heavily damaged by flooding. I have personal knowledge of the area around Exeter and of St Asaph in north Wales; these are dreadful events for people to have to live through.

It is terrifically important that we protect people wherever we can. That is why the Government are allocating £2.17 billion over four years. The hon. Lady will have heard the Prime Minister say yesterday, in response to questions, that we hope to leverage additional support for flood defences. She will also know from what the Prime Minister said yesterday that we continue to be in discussions with the Association of British Insurers about securing protection for householders through insurance as well. I will, of course, continue to keep closely in touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about how the House can be kept informed on these matters.

I am trying to think of anything else that the hon. Lady asked for that could be considered business of the House, but there was not much. She commented on press reports about what happened at Cabinet, but today of all days she might recognise that we should not believe everything we read in the newspapers.

The hon. Lady mentioned the Prime Minister being an “heir to Blair”, and she talked about the appointment of peers in another place, but my recollection is that Tony Blair made 374 peers. By that standard, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been notably reticent.

We in the House, including Opposition Members who have been in government, know that “Yes Minister”, when it was broadcast by the BBC and even today, is, in fact, a documentary programme and not a work of fiction. I am somewhat unusual in this place in having been not only my own version of Jim Hacker, but Bernard in a former life. The one thing I am not expecting to be is a Sir Humphrey at any stage. If at any point we can illustrate “Yes Minister”, I am sure we will set out to do so.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for talking about growth and welfare. Yesterday we had a debate about those issues. I looked at reports of past business questions for a request for an Opposition day debate on employment. Yesterday, the Opposition did talk about jobs but not about how to create them. They did not have a policy for that—it was a policy-free zone from the Labour party yesterday. What a missed opportunity. The Labour party had an opportunity to use its time to celebrate the 70-year anniversary of the Beveridge report. We could have celebrated the sense of how work is a route out of poverty and want, and how social solidarity through welfare provision is properly a way in which we can build a stronger society, as the Government are setting out to do. We could also have celebrated the contribution made by a Liberal as part of a coalition Government under a Conservative Prime Minister for the long-term benefit of this country.

Will my right hon. Friend agree to a debate on people who have emigrated outside the European Union yet still claim benefits such as winter fuel payments and child benefit?

I pay tribute to the great deal of work my hon. Friend has done on this issue. As we head towards winter, it is terrifically important that we look after communities. That is one reason why I was so pleased in the past week to see the announcement of some 149 successful projects that are being supported by the Department of Health’s warm homes healthy people fund this winter, following the successful work last winter. This is in partnership with local authorities, Age UK and other charities, and I know that my hon. Friend and others across the House have been active proponents of that kind of community-based support for people at risk.

In her excellent report last week, the Children’s Commissioner identified missing episodes, visits to sexual health clinics and use of mental health services as strong indicators that a child may be being sexually abused. However, current Department of Health guidelines on sharing such health data with other agencies are creating a postcode lottery because of different interpretations at both the local and national level about what data can be shared. The situation is very concerning because some children are not being identified as being at risk, and are therefore continuing to be abused. Will the Leader of the House make time available for a debate on the Children’s Commissioner’s excellent report and the data-sharing issues it raises?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that. I read the report, as I know many hon. Members will have done. They will have been alarmed by some of the things that the deputy Children’s Commissioner had to say and will feel it is very important that we follow up on it. The House recently had an opportunity to debate child sexual exploitation, but that is not to say that there is not a case for further such opportunities. The subject she discusses is an area where the further progress we are making on the role of local safeguarding children boards in local authorities should enable us to have, among other things, better sharing of information to protect children.

In the case of the Bedford free school, the Planning Inspectorate recommended a full award of costs against Bedford borough council because of its

“unreasonable behaviour resulting in unnecessary expense”.

May we have a debate about how councils in charge of education departments can use taxpayers’ money for school books, computers, gym equipment and improved facilities, rather than wasting it on trying to stop excellent, committed teachers from doing their job?

My hon. Friend makes an important point very well. I know that people in Bedford feel strongly about the benefits that the Bedford free school can bring in extending choice to parents and in promoting improvements in educational standards. If he catches your eye, Mr Speaker, he may have an opportunity to raise this issue in Education questions on Monday.

The Leader of the House will not need me to tell him that all of us are very concerned about vulnerable young people in this country. The protection of childhood is something that most of us hold dear, as do the children’s charities. May we have a debate about what we would lose if childhood was shrunk by giving children—16-year-olds—the vote? I am not against that or for it; what I want is a serious discussion in this House before we take away protections from children up to 18 and push adulthood down to 16.

The hon. Gentleman may be aware that this issue is being considered by the Backbench Business Committee, on the basis of representations made to it by a number of hon. Members. Clearly I am happy for the Committee to consider whether time should be made available for such a debate.

May we have a debate on the success of our free schools policy? In my constituency, the I-Foundation has opened the first state-sponsored Hindu primary school and a secondary school. They are both so over-subscribed that capacity is having to be doubled in just two years. The I-Foundation is now launching a campaign to have five further Hindu free schools across the country, with a further five to follow. This demonstrates parental choice, both for a religious type of education and for the type of education that new organisations are providing.

My hon. Friend sets out a good argument both for free schools and for our taking the opportunity to celebrate the successes coming from them. That is happening around the country and often in this place we do not take enough opportunities to recognise what the successes in policies mean in practice for the populations we serve. It is not easy, as time is short in this House, but we will continue to look for where such opportunities might arise.

May we have a statement as soon as possible on progress on the implementation of Sir John Holmes’s report on the governance principles for the award of military medals in this country, and particularly on the issue of those who served in the Arctic convoys, on which we continue to receive many representations, and the need to recognise those heroes properly through the award of a medal?

The right hon. Gentleman will have noted when I announced the forthcoming business that the Backbench Business Committee has allocated time next Thursday for a debate on defence personnel. I completely understand that the breadth of issues that will need to be encompassed in that debate is very wide, but he might recognise that there is an opportunity there, not least to recognise past service.

Later today we will have what I think is a unique event. The Deputy Prime Minister, whose main responsibility is to support the Prime Minister, will make a statement opposing the Prime Minister. Will the Leader of the House make an urgent statement so that the Deputy Prime Minister knows from which Dispatch Box he is to speak?

My hon. Friend will recognise, I know, that Ministers make statements to this House on Government policy. As “Erskine May” makes clear, the reason they make statements is to explain to the House how they propose to pursue public business. As for this afternoon’s statements, it is perfectly reasonable to give an immediate response to an inquiry as wide-ranging as the Leveson inquiry in order to convey as fully as possible to the House a sense of how the coalition Government—a unique event for us—are pursuing the process of considering and responding to the report. The House will be better informed by two statements than it would have been by one alone and both are ministerial statements on Government policy.

Yesterday, Lloyds Banking Group announced the closure of the call centre in Motherwell that employs 200 people. That call centre has now been moved to Glasgow city centre and, as everyone knows, it will not be convenient for many of those workers to move across west central Scotland. Will the Leader of the House give time for a statement to discuss how the banking groups treat not only their customers but their employees?

I completely sympathise with the hon. Gentleman on behalf of his constituents about the consequences of commercial decisions made by companies. He will know, not least from the points made by a number of Members during business questions, that the relationship between banking groups and their communities, as well as the service they offer to local communities, are issues of importance to Members that continue to arise. It is not just a matter for the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. Perhaps he and others might like to consider whether there is a case for a debate in Back-Bench time to raise those issues on behalf of their constituents.

I welcome what the Leader of the House said about the 70th anniversary of the Beveridge report and I also welcome the coalition’s commitment to fairness and to ensuring that work always pays. With that in mind, may I ask for a debate on the performance of the retail banks that are failing to support small businesses in my constituency, which are eager to invest in jobs but are denied working capital?

There is a synchronicity between the previous question and this one as regards the relationship between banks and our local communities. I sometimes share with my hon. Friend a sense of frustration about the extent to which the conventional banking system now supports small and medium-sized businesses. That is why our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, together with the Treasury, is so actively pursuing those issues, not least through the recent announcement of the operational start of the new business banking support and the support that that gives to new challenger banks to supply new innovative routes of lending to small businesses.

May we have a debate on the apparent abuse of the electrical equipment recycling market? Four multinationals—Sylvania, GE, Osman and Philips—appear to be seeking to subvert the effect of the forthcoming recast waste electrical and electronic equipment directive by operating a cartel in relation to the recycling of waste electrical equipment, which is putting the viability of independent recycling companies and local jobs, including in my constituency, at risk.

I am interested in what the hon. Lady says, but I am sure she will understand that I am not in a position to comment on it without any direct knowledge of those issues. From her description, she should bear in mind not only the question of whether that is a suitable topic for debate in the House, but the fact that, as I know from having served on the Standing Committees of the Competition Bill and the Enterprise Bill in previous Parliaments, legislation is in place that allows her and others who have evidence to go to the Office of Fair Trading for investigation of those practices.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport secured appropriate terms for all mobile operators in the forthcoming auction, and significant investment has been made in fixed-line broadband throughout the whole of the UK. May we have a debate on the progress of broadband roll-out to learn about the best practice in some of the areas that have operated faster than others and to ensure that the scale and terms of those contracts are suitable to deliver competition?

My hon. Friend is right. He refers to the digital switchover, which was a major programme delivered on time and under budget with few complaints about it—a very good example of collaboration. We will now have the benefit of the spectrum auction that is coming up. Through that and other routes, the broadband roll-out across the country can be a major contributor to growth. I hope it will be achieved rapidly and on time, and in a way that is stimulated by competition.

Jo Darling is a full-time carer in my constituency, while also studying for a PhD. However, she is unable to access carer’s allowance because she is a full-time student, and she is unable to work because of her caring responsibilities. She has only a £6,000 a year scholarship to live off and is deeply worried that she will have to give up her studies because she is struggling to get by. May we have a statement on what steps the Government will take to provide proper support to wonderful carers such as Jo, who are both full-time students and full-time carers?

If the hon. Lady wishes me to do so, I will be glad to ask my hon. Friends at the Department for Work and Pensions to comment on the specifics of the individual case. Carer’s allowance is intended to be an allowance in relation to the loss of potential for earnings. If somebody is in full-time education, by definition one cannot justify carer’s allowance to that extent. On support for carers generally, the House has just agreed the establishment of a Joint Committee to consider the draft Care and Support Bill, which includes the most important legislative measures ever presented to give a basis of support for carers.

The hon. Member for Reading East (Mr Wilson) has wandered almost like a nomad, albeit all at one end of the Chamber, across three Benches, but I hope he is now comfortably perched and ready to give the House the benefit of his thoughts.

I thank you for that kind introduction, Mr Speaker. Following the publication of yesterday’s Ofsted report on the performance of local education authorities, may we have a debate in Government time about why some LEAs, such as Reading, are so much worse at providing, for example, primary school education than either surrounding authorities or demographically comparable local education authorities?

My hon. Friend is right. We might examine that. He might like to raise the matter at Education questions on Monday, but in any case it is an illustration of the benefits that come from the transparency of the publication of data. In a number of fields, including education, that enables us and the public to examine unwarranted variation between different parts of the country, and to try to drive out poor performance and drive up good performance.

May I raise again the issue of a signal-controlled crossing on Darlaston road in my constituency? A four-year-old child was knocked over and suffered serious head injuries, and a woman suffered a fractured pelvis—all this on the crossing. Three hundred local people have signed a petition, yet the council refuses to upgrade the crossing to a signal-controlled crossing. I have written to everybody—the Department for Transport, the council—and still they refuse. Can the Leader of the House use his good offices to point me in the right direction, perhaps with an urgent debate, or tell me where to go next before there is a death on the crossing?

I am sorry to hear that about the hon. Lady’s constituents, with whom I am sure we all sympathise. I will of course take the opportunity to talk with colleagues, not least in the Department for Transport, because I know from experience in my constituency that the lead for that comes best through the Department to Network Rail. I will be happy to correspond with the Department on that.

May I ask my right hon. Friend again for a debate on the conduct of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and its handling of allegations of child abuse in north Wales? A report issued last weekend by the bureau’s trustees sought to whitewash their responsibility for the widely discredited “Newsnight” report on the matter. The licence fee payer now faces a bill of £185,000 in damages, but many would argue that the main responsibility lies with the shoddy journalism of the bureau’s chief reporter, Angus Stickler. I believe that the bureau bears equal responsibility; surely it should share the BBC’s costs.

My hon. Friend will not expect me to comment on the allocation of those costs. Technically, these are matters not for the Government but for the BBC and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. He will share my desire for the BBC to make rapid progress with the Pollard review and publish it in full so that the public can see what was done in relation to the “Newsnight” report.

Continuing the “Yes Minister” theme, more than a month ago I personally delivered 300 letters from constituents about flooding insurance to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I raised the issue with the Leader of the House a few weeks ago, because I had received no acknowledgement or response. Yesterday, I had a telephone call from the Secretary of State’s private office to tell me that they could not find the 300 letters. Will the Leader of the House advise me on what I should do next?

I will be happy to continue to talk with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The hon. Lady will be aware from my right hon. Friend’s recent statement, and indeed from Prime Minister’s questions, that we have been in active negotiations with the Association of British Insurers and are determined to bring the matter to a successful conclusion.

May we please have a debate on the operation of free markets so that I and others who oppose the Government’s plans to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol and regard it as yet another unnecessary extension of the nanny state can put our views on the record?

I have never found my hon. Friend backwards in coming forward to make his views known, and I am sure that opportunities for him to do so will present themselves. With regard to the minimum unit price for alcohol, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary published on behalf of the Government a consultative document yesterday. The Government are clear that a minimum unit price will contribute to tackling the deep-seated issues related to binge drinking and alcohol abuse. A report published by the chief medical officer only the week before last shows that this country has such a high relative level of death from liver disease, and the level is rising while in other countries it is falling. That tells us that we have to do something.

When will we have a debate or a statement on the ombudsman’s report on the use of bailiffs by the courts and local authorities?

I have no knowledge of an immediate opportunity for such a debate, but I will of course look at whether there is any opportunity for an oral or written statement in due course.

Experiencing the death of a loved one is sadly inevitable for us all, but dealing with the funeral costs can come as a very unwelcome shock for many. The social fund payment has substantially devalued over the years and many families find themselves deep in debt despite being eligible for a payment. May we have a debate on how we can help families provide a dignified funeral for a loved one without adding further financial stress at a difficult time?

My hon. Friend makes an important point that she may wish to raise on Monday week in Department for Work and Pensions questions. I know from my former ministerial responsibilities that we are continuing to consider how the cost of death certification, which is a significant part of the overall costs, is to be met in future, in order if possible not to add to the burdens that people face when they are bereaved. In addition, I will ask my hon. Friends in the Department to correspond with her about how they are considering those issues.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the role of employment agencies in local labour markets? That is of huge concern in Corby and east Northamptonshire, where too many people find that they are on zero-hours contracts with no guarantees of work, even though they may have travelled some distance or at some cost to get to their place of work, and are often on low wages. There is also a big concern about employment agencies often recruiting from overseas rather than making sure that local people can get into work.

It is a pleasure to welcome the hon. Gentleman to business questions. I noted that he had a very successful maiden speech in last week’s debate on manufacturing industry—an important debate in which we welcomed him to our deliberations.

On the hon. Gentleman’s question, he might like to consider raising that issue at Work and Pensions questions. The agency workers directive will have some effect, and I will be happy to find out a little more about its impact on his local labour market and to correspond with him.

The West Yorkshire fire and rescue integrated management action plan proposes the closure of Marsden fire station. In recent years there have been widespread fires up on Marsden moors and a major fire at a chemical factory just up the valley in Linthwaite. Does my right hon. Friend agree that West Yorkshire fire authority and the management plan need to take into account all these local factors when making these tough decisions?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is the responsibility of fire and rescue authorities to make such decisions. As he knows, they are required to have in place fire and rescue service integrated risk management plans to identify local needs and to tackle existing and potential risks to communities. That should create a more transparent approach to how they use their resources to evaluate and respond to risk, and it is the context in which my hon. Friend can hold them to account in doing so.

I am pleased that the Leader of the House has found time to reschedule the debate on the expulsion of Ugandan Asians, which many of my constituents will follow with great interest.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on investment in the east midlands regional economy? Recent figures show that we are apparently bottom of the list for regional growth fund allocations, while other figures show that we not doing as well as we perhaps should as regards other types of Government investment. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House would appreciate the opportunity to lobby Ministers in such a debate.

I am coming to that. The Backbench Business Committee should take credit for allocating time initially and finding additional time next week for the debate on the anniversary of the expulsion of Ugandan Asians, and I am glad about that.

A number of Members in different regions have sought Adjournment debates to discuss their regional economies. The House will welcome that, as will the Government, because such debates provide an opportunity for us to demonstrate how the regional growth fund and our industrial strategy are leading to increases in employment across the country and a rebalancing of our economy, as was discussed in last week’s debate on manufacturing.

The extraordinary levels of rainfall over the past week have caused the banks of the River Avon to burst. Local residents, National Farmers Union members and farmers in Britford have been warning that that would be likely as a result of stopping weed cutting in the river. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on how local expertise can be listened to in order to avoid changes in regulations that allow these risks to become much higher, as we have seen this week?

My hon. Friend makes an important point on behalf of his constituents. What happened will have been very concerning for them. It is important that the Environment Agency and local authorities take a proactive approach. After the flooding in my constituency in October 2001, the local authorities and parishes, the Environment Agency, I as the Member of Parliament and others met to establish a programme to deal with precisely the risks that he mentions. I would have far preferred it if we had done that proactively, rather than waiting until the flooding had demonstrated where the risks were greatest.

When the Government opted into the EU directive on human trafficking they claimed that the role of an independent rapporteur could be fulfilled by the interdepartmental ministerial group. Some of us queried that. The group produced its first report on 18 October. As yet, there is no sign of this House having an opportunity to debate it. Will the Leader of the House ensure that Parliament has an opportunity to debate the report on human trafficking?

I will, of course, look at whether there is an opportunity for such a debate. The hon. Lady may also wish to discuss the possibility with the Backbench Business Committee. I will gladly consider with my colleagues whether we can create such an opportunity.

Pendle’s young entrepreneur of the year, 26-year-old Simon Mellin, has established a bistro and farm shop with his younger brother. Roaming Roosters opened just a few months ago, but is already employing 30 members of staff. With the help of Pendle borough council and Nelson and Colne college, Roaming Roosters ran the “Can you hack it?” programme, which saw 10 young people compete for two butchery apprenticeships in the firm. Simon is now helping the other eight youngsters to find work with local businesses. May we have a debate about apprenticeships so that all MPs across the House can cite innovative examples from their constituencies and discuss the Government’s progress in this area?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Today, not least, it is good to have a different reference to hacking—in this case in relation to butchery. That example shows how apprenticeships are being made available in small and medium-sized businesses, and is a signal of how we can create jobs in the future. In the past, jobs have come overwhelmingly from small and medium-sized businesses and from growing businesses. If apprentices are able to find such places, they will be able to secure the jobs of the future. That is why it is encouraging that 950,000 apprenticeships have started in the past two years with 100,000 employers in 160,000 locations. I hope that what my hon. Friend describes is just one of many such schemes that we will be able to support.

Yesterday afternoon, during the emergency business statement, the Leader of the House stated, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), that the Prime Minister would be speaking for the Government, not just the Conservative part of the Government. What on earth has changed? Who will be speaking for the Government this afternoon?

I thought that I had made that clear in response to an earlier question. Both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister will be making statements this afternoon on behalf of the Government—they are ministerial statements.

As my right hon. Friend may know, at least 12 male Members of Parliament and a number of the House’s staff are taking part in “Movember” to raise awareness and money for prostate cancer charities. I am doing so on behalf of the Chestnut Appeal in Devon and Cornwall. May we have a debate to discuss the importance of tackling prostate cancer?

We are now right at the end of “Movember”, so this is an opportunity to thank my hon. Friend, other colleagues and members of the House service who have given such a splendid tonsorial display in support of research into better treatments for prostate cancer, testicular cancer and so on. Members from across the House will know of friends or loved ones who have suffered from prostate cancer. There are real opportunities, both through earlier diagnosis and in the development of further treatments. Treatments such as brachytherapy and robotic surgery have improved significantly the chances of those who suffer from prostate cancer, and there is more that we can achieve.

The Leader of the House would probably like to lead an Adjournment debate on that matter. He would do so with great force and eloquence, and possibly at some length.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for drawing attention to our letters to the Environment Secretary about flooding. Since there is cross-departmental responsibility for flood issues, will the Leader of the House call for an early debate, potentially with three Ministers to respond? There is the matter outstanding from the 2007 floods of sustainable drainage systems, recovery under the Bellwin formula and whether capital expenditure will be extended to roads and bridges, as well as reservoir safety guidance. In a week in which north Yorkshire suffered its second worst flooding since 2007, will the Leader of the House commit to a debate to which three Secretaries of State could respond: from DEFRA—

Order. This is too long. I am sorry but the hon. Lady is giving a dissertation. I am sure it is very interesting, but it is not a question.

None the less, Mr Speaker, I am grateful to my hon. Friend whose expertise and responsibilities on this issue are important. I cannot commit to a debate in the way she proposes. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made a statement and, as I have said, I will continue to discuss with him about how and when he can update the House most appropriately. He will address on behalf of the Government all issues related to flooding, including those raised by other hon. Friends.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has announced local authority access to the Bellwin scheme that will deliver reimbursement above the threshold for up to 85% of their costs.

Construction work recently started on a project to lengthen the runway at Birmingham airport, and a project facilitated by the regional growth fund will open the west midlands to emerging markets and create many new jobs in our region. May we have a debate on the role of Birmingham airport and its place in the west midlands regional economy, and on how we expect the regional growth fund to expand that economy?

Yes—I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and as we discuss airport capacity we can continue to debate and reflect on how to improve and use the capacity available in regional airports. From my experience in a previous life as deputy director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, I know there are many unrealised opportunities for regional airports to be hubs for economic growth.

The UK internet economy is forecast to grow to 12% of our GDP by 2016. North Yorkshire is well placed to capitalise on that growth through its leadership of the broadband roll-out and its Superfast North Yorkshire project. May we have a debate on the digital economy and what progress we can make on that, as it is critical to future economic growth?

My hon. Friend is right, and across the country the Government are actively pursuing access to fast broadband so that every part of the country can have the economic stimulus that it provides, the social interconnections it sometimes enables, and better delivery of public services. I hope we will have a competition, because different places across the country are proceeding at different paces—from my experience, I am sure that north Yorkshire will be among those at the forefront of such a competition.

The hon. Gentleman has asked his question. We are grateful to him and I should not have forgotten quite so quickly. I am sure that it was otherwise extremely memorable; it was entirely my fault.

I am sorry to disappoint the Liberal Democrat Members. I note their enthusiasm and eagerness but unfortunately neither hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber at the start of the session so neither of them can speak.

Order. The hon. Gentleman should resume his seat. He was not here and that is the end of the matter.

We come now to the statement on energy. [Interruption.] [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] We are grateful to the Secretary of State for Energy who has arrived in the nick of time. I am sure he would have been very happy for the statement to be delivered by the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), but it will be delivered by the Secretary of State.