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David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last year, the Public Accounts Committee asked the Home Office to notify it of the numbers of foreign criminals guilty of serious crimes who had been released without proper consideration of whether they should be deported. Last November, the Home Office told the PAC that there were 403 such foreign nationals. It now transpires that the number was more than 1,000, 160 of whom were recommended for deportation during the sentencing process, yet only five have been deported.
The Home Secretary briefed the press at 12.30 pm today and laid a statement in the House at 2.11 pm, so the House could not have been aware of the situation before the press. As far as I am aware, we do not have a mechanism to bring the Home Secretary to the Chamber to answer for that major Government failure. Can you give me guidance, Mr. Speaker, about how on earth we can bring the Home Secretary to book for not protecting the safety of the public?
Mr. Speaker: I am on the record as saying often that I prefer Ministers to come to the House. When such matters appear on television and statements are issued, I have either been preparing for the Chair or have been in the Chair, but I promise the right hon. Gentleman that I will look into the matter and ask the Home Secretary to give me an explanation.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): On a completely different point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last Thursday, as I am sure you are aware, the shadow Leader of the House said that the Prime Minister misled the House. It transpires that the Prime Minister was absolutely right when he said that
"in the Thames Valley strategic health authority area . . . in 1997, more than 2,500 patients waited longer than 13 weeks for their out-patient appointment; today the figure is none."[Official Report, 19 April 2006; Vol. 445, c. 116.]
The point on which I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, is that in the past you were robust when Members used the phrase "misled the House". Indeed, last year, you asked two Members to leave the Chamber: the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), when he said that the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform, my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge) had misled the House, and the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price) when he said that the Prime Minister had misled the House. I hope it is still your view, Mr. Speaker, that that phrase is unparliamentary. Surely, whatever our differences, we should all treat each other as honourable Members.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. This happened last Thursday. It was dealt with, and we move on. Perhaps it is best that the term "misleading" never be applied to the comments of any right hon. or hon. Member.
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Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): Further to the point of order raised by the shadow Home Secretary, Mr. Speaker. I would have wished to table an urgent question this morning, Mr. Speaker, had the Home Office made its written statement early enough. It was my question in the Public Accounts Committee that led to the informationas it turned out, the inadequate informationbeing released. Given that the information that is now coming from the Home Secretary is that the foreign nationals released from prison without consideration being given to their deportation or removal included four kidnappers, four arsonists, 62 drug dealers, nine rapists and three murderers, it is hard to see what could be a more serious matter, in relation to which a Minister should come before the House. On many occasions, Mr. Speaker, I have heard you deprecate Ministers' failure to make a statement to the House first. I wonder whether you should perhaps consider further measures that you should take when Ministers fail to do that.
Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) have raised this matter. To be fair to Ministers, I will look into it. In other words, I will hear the other side of the story. That is the best thing that I can do. On urgent questions, Back Benchers and Front Benchers are entitled to apply for an urgent question, but, of course, it is up to me whether I agree to it.
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am desperately concerned about the safety of my constituents and other constituents in Hertfordshire. The chief fire officer of Hertfordshire told me this morning that, sadly, there is a dispute involving the excellent firefighters in Hertfordshire and that there is likely to be a strike soon. The chief fire officer has applied to the Ministry of Defence for servicemen and women to help to protect our constituencies with fire cover should a strike take place. I understand that, for the first time ever, the MOD has refused. Will a Minister come to the House to explain why the MOD is not going to protect our constituents when that dispute takes place?
Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman, like every other hon. Member, has a constituency to protect. My best advice is for him to call for a meeting with the Minister and put the case that there is a serious problem involving the fire services in his constituency and that his constituents must be protected.
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con):
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is not just the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) that is affected. Neighbouring areas, such as Bedfordshire, may be affected, as well. There is a degree of urgency about the matter that requires my hon. Friend to make the application to bring a Minister before the House, rather than just have a meeting. I would be very grateful, Mr. Speaker, if you understood that the concerns go wider than just my hon. Friend and his constituency.
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Mr. Speaker: I can only draw on my experience as a Member of Parliament. One of the strengths of being Speaker in the House of Commons is that I have to have a constituency in the same way as everyone else. My first port of call would be to demand a meeting between the Members affected, led by the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), and the appropriate Ministerwhether that is a Defence Minister or the Minister for Local Government. There is a Minister in that Department who used to a fireman, so he will know about the matter. [Interruption.] It seems that the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead used be a fireman, too. Well, it will be a good meeting. That is my advice.
I applied to present this Bill some time before last week's announcement at Peugeot, because I have thought for a long time that something should be done about companies arbitrarily announcing redundancies. We have certainly had a spate of them doing so in the west midlands over the past two or three years. Hon. Members will remember what happened at Rover, and it happened again at Rover fairly recently. Coventry had the Peugeot announcement recently and the Jaguar announcement last year, and some hon. Members will remember what happened at the Standard Motor Company about 20 years ago.
Such things have happened to us over a long period. Nevertheless, I know that the Bill will not stop redundancy as such, but that is not really the issue: the Bill will certainly make it difficult to close factories arbitrarily, and some major companies are ignoring the social consequences of such decisions not only for their employees, but for their employees' families. In fact, the labour forces at Jaguar and Peugeot were increasing quality and productivity, and they were told in return that the companies would increase investmentcertainly, in Coventrybut in both instances that never happened.
Only about 18 months ago, I had an Adjournment debate in the House about whether Peugeot would take a grant offered by the Government, which never materialised. Since then, the company has played cat and mouse with not only Ministers but its employees and their families. The announcement was a bitter pill for the families, but it was a slap in the face for the labour force. Companies are effectively telling their labour forces these days that, even if they improve quality and productivity, they might be down the road in a couple of weeks or a year's time. That is not very satisfactory. My Bill therefore aims to bring UK employment legislation into line with the minimum European standards on information and consultation.
The Bill has three main points: administration, liquidation and input into investment decisions through the labour force's representatives, which can take many forms. Employees must be part of the decision-making process during the administrative phase of a company and prior to liquidation. Very often, in those circumstances, employees are not treated the same as a preferential creditor or as the taxman. They are about fourth or fifth in the pecking order, and by the time it comes to them, they find that they have a problem. In some instances, they get only statutory redundancy pay. Only when employees are part of that decision-making process will they be able to provide meaningful input into the direction of any financial decision made by the company. Consultation post liquidation is simply lip service and, frankly, ineffectual in protecting employees' jobs and pensions.
As happens in some European countries, the Bill seeks mandatory consultation with employees, preferably under the umbrella of a works committee. Strict financial penalties should be applied to companies
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that fail to consult, and specific waiting periods must be observed between each stage of the process. In some European countries, the law requires companies or groups with at least 300 employees, as well as smaller companies with works councils, to hold negotiations every three years, as a means of informing and consulting their employees on the company's strategy and its expected impact on employment and work force and skills planning.
Companies in the UK are obliged to provide information only on issues consequential to investment decisions. However, the information should be given in such a fashion as to allow representatives adequate time to study and to make alternative investment proposals. The Bill aims to create a level playing field for investment decisions made by companies in line with their counterparts in Europe. We cannot allow a situation to continue where companies are easily able to uproot without fulfilling all their commitments to their employees.
Over the last 20 years, Coventry has seen the closure of the Standard Motor Company, Rolls-Royce at Parkside, Massey Ferguson and Jaguar. Coventry also had some input into Rover, and now we have Peugeot to add. We have doubtless all heard about the 2,300 job losses at Peugeot by 2007, which emphasises the weakness of employment legislation. Workers at Ryton have been excluded from meaningful consultation on the future of the company, which never confirmed whether it would take up the European grant of more than £14 million.
Employees were left out of the decision-making process and were used only in a "consultative exercise"a trend that must be reversed. That and future decisions will have an inevitable ripple effect on this country's economy. The choice is clear: we should introduce the same employment protection that other employees enjoy in Europe. Without a doubt, we need a more proactive industrial policy and stronger employment laws, which would save jobs.
The west midlands contributed £77.3 billion to our wider economy in 2003. Until we show our determination to protect jobs in the west midlands and the country more widely, we will see a significant decline in one of the UK's largest regional economic contributors. I therefore urge the House to give its wholehearted support to the Bill.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Jim Cunningham, Mr. Geoffrey Robinson, Mr. Brian Donohoe, Mr. Jim Devine, Mr. Bill Olner, Mr. Brian Jenkins, Jim Sheridan, Anne Moffat, Christine Russell and Mr. David Hamilton.
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