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Talking of scrutiny, there is a backlog of 109 inquests into the deaths of servicemen and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last October, the right hon. and learned Lady was responsible for the inquests. Then, she said that the backlog was unacceptable and would be sorted out, but that
has not happened, and the backlog has caused considerable distress to bereaved families. Will the Secretary of State for Justice come to the House urgently to make a statement on what he will do to sort out that backlog?
The Government are due to respond to the Leitch review of skills, which they commissioned in 2004, and which reported more than six months ago. Will the right hon. and learned Lady ensure that the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills comes to the House to make an oral statement when he publishes the Governments response?
regeneration... may be...better...than the creation of super-casinos[ Official Report, 11 July 2007; Vol. 462, c. 1438.]
and the media were briefed that the Manchester super-casino was dead in the water. That is no way to announce a change in Government policy. If the Prime Minister respects Parliament, will he order the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to come to the House to make a statement?
On 23 July the Second Reading of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill will take place, but yesterday the Prime Minister said that he would add the recommendations from the Flanagan review to the Bill in the autumn. How can we give the Bill a Second Reading when part of it is not even written? May we have an urgent statement on that Bill?
National parliaments shall contribute actively to the good functioning of the Union.
Presumably, good functioning will be determined by the European Court of Justice. That would constitute a fundamental change in the relationship between our sovereign Parliament and the institutions of the European Union, so may we have a debate in Government time on the need for a referendum on the European treaty?
Leaders of the House are, by tradition, Chairmen of the Modernisation Committee, but the Governments motion to appoint the right hon. and learned Lady as Chairman of the Committee has been withdrawn twice. Why? Failure to move the motion means that the Committee remains in limbo, so may we have a statement on that?
Successive Leaders of the House have briefed the Lobby every Thursday about forthcoming House business. The right hon. and learned Lady has refused to do that, but I understand that she will brief the Lobby in her job as chairman of the Labour party. Will she take time from her duties as Labour party chairman to make a statement to the House on the relationship between Parliament and the media?
All jobs must be available part-time,
but as she is unable to take her place as Chairman of the Modernisation Committee, and is unable to brief the Lobby, does she not think that being chairman and deputy leader of the Labour party, Minister for Women and Leader of the House is taking part-time working just a little too far?
Ms Harman: I look forward to working with the right hon. Lady, and I say to her and to the whole House that it is right for all Members of the House to hold Ministers to account. I expect the House to do that, and as Leader of the House I will protect it in doing exactly that. She asked me about the important issue of inquests for those members of the armed forces who have tragically lost their lives in Iraq. There will be questions to the Secretary of State for Justice before the House rises for the summer recess, and no doubt the issue will be raised then, but I remind the House that we did act to ensure that there were no delays to those inquests.
We gave the Oxfordshire coroner the resources to appoint two assistant deputy coroners to expedite those inquests. On inquests for those whose bodies have been repatriated to RAF Lyneham, which comes under the jurisdiction of the Wiltshire coroner, the Government and I made it clear that we will not allow a backlog to arise in the way that it did in Oxfordshire. If the Wiltshire coroner makes it clear what resources are necessary, those resources will be forthcoming. We are all absolutely clear that we cannot have delays to inquests. Indeed, when I was Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice I wrote to the Wiltshire coroner and asked him whether he would like to have a meeting with my officials so that we could establish what extra resources, if any, he needed, and provide those resources. No backlog has built up since RAF Lyneham took over from Brize Norton, but my colleagues in the Ministry of Justice are taking the issue seriously.
The right hon. Lady asked about casinos. I remind her that there will be Culture, Media and Sport questions and if there is something to be announced, no doubt there will be a statement, written or oral, from my colleagues in that Department. I remind the right hon. Lady and the House what the position is with respect to casinos. Agreement was not reached between this House and the House of Lords about the substance, or about the process whereby we would try to reach agreement. That being the case and there being deadlock, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House yesterday that the gambling prevalence study is under review, and that he would take the opportunity of the summer to reflect on whether further consideration would be given to how to regenerate areas that are greatly in need of regeneration, including east Manchester. Both the process and the substance are important matters for the House, and I can assure the right hon. Lady that we will do everything we can to make sure that information is brought to the House, following the Prime Ministers remarks to the House yesterday.
On the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, the right hon. Lady is aware that the Flanagan review is under way. So long as any proposed amendment is within the scope of the long title, it would be quite normal for the Government to table an amendment. If it met with the support of the House and was within the scope of the Bill, it would be included in the legislation. There would be nothing unusual there.
No, there will not be a debate on the need for a referendum because there is no need for a referendum of the British public. However, there will need to be proper scrutiny by the House of any amending treaty.
With respect to the Modernisation Committee, I hope, like the previous Leader of the House, to be Chair of that Committee. The House will know that the procedure is that a motion is tabled to replace the previous Leader of the House with myself, as Leader of the House, as a member of the Modernisation Committee. That motion has been tabled and will be moved in due course, and I expect to take up my position on the Modernisation Committee. I regard its work as extremely important to the House. It has already made great progress in the years that it has sat, and I congratulate all the Members who have been part of the Committee on the good work that it has done and the difference that it has made in the House.
With reference to the right hon. Ladys question about the briefing to the Lobby, if I as Leader of the House have something to say about the business of the House, I will seek to say it today in business questions. I will therefore not need to hold a Lobby briefing after business questions in the House. If I have something to say to the House, I will say it in the House. However, as a Member of Parliament I have obviously spoken to journalists for the past 25 years and no doubt I will continue to do so. As the right hon. Lady has asked, I can tell the House that I have no standing arrangement to brief the Lobby in my role as chair of the party. I hope that if I fail in my job as Leader of the House, she and all other Members will call me to account. That is only right. But it does not make sense for her to say that I am not doing my job, when I have just started it with absolute and complete commitment.
Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend take time to consider arranging a debate on civil service dispersals? In my constituency in the past few weeks there has been an announcement about the possible withdrawal of jobs in another of the sectors of civil service, to the detriment of an already serious situation, as there is a dearth of civil service jobs in the constituency.
Ms Harman: Perhaps I can suggest to my hon. Friend that he raises that issue with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who will answer questions next Tuesday. I am sure that he will have heard the points that my hon. Friend has made about his constituency.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): The Leader of the Houses statement is welcome, as is the announcement of the debate on the draft legislative programme announced yesterday which will enable the whole House to make its contribution before we rise for the summer. In that context, may I reinforce the point made by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) about the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill? It is clearly illogical to start to debate a major Bill when we know that significant changes will be made on the other side of the summer recess. Will the Leader of the House think again, talk to colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, and see whether the Bill can be deferred so that it can be introduced in its final form, as the Government want it, rather than in its initial form?
Will the Leader of the House deal with three things that were not in yesterdays statement but might have been, that are absolutely to do with House business and that I thought were on the Governments agenda? Will she bring proposals before the House so that we can discuss whether Parliament, rather than the Government, should have control of parliamentary business and decide who chairs its Select Committees, and will we get the promised statement about Lords reform that we were told would happen before the summer but have not heard anything about yet?
On serious matters, one of which was touched on by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead, Liberal Democrat Members continue to share the concern about inquests into the deaths of those killed on active service abroad. If necessary, can we have a statement before the end of term? I am grateful for what the Leader of the House said, but there is widespread concern that there should be no delays.
I hope that there will be a statement on the state of the Prison Service, given todays indication that we have probably the highest suicide levels in our prisons for many years. Given that the Government have taken an initiative, controversial as it may have been, which means that things are slightly more settled, can we have an opportunity for a less heated debate about the future of our prisons this side of the summer so that we can be reassured that things are under control, not out of control?
Lastly, given that we are coming up to the summer holidays, let me say that there are some good things in the Governments programme about the future of youth provision. The Leader of the House has expressed a great interest in that important matter. Could we have a statement on leisure provision for young people as well as the necessary statement on casinos and possible changes in leisure provision for older people, which are clearly implied in what the Prime Minister said yesterday?
Ms Harman: I heard what the hon. Gentleman said about the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, and no doubt my ministerial colleagues will reflect on that. However, I am sure that he would agree that if any amendment that is within the scope of the long title wins the support of the House, there is no reason for not tabling it. Like the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), he raised the matter of proportionalitywhether there are a great many new amendments that override issues that have been settled on Second Reading. That point will no doubt be clear to my colleagues in the relevant Department.
On Parliament taking control of business, what is important is that we agree through the usual channels the business that comes to this House and that I, as Leader of the House, put it to the House in a statement on Thursdays. There are no plans to change that. As for Parliament deciding who chairs Select Committees, Parliament does exactly that. Proposals are made and it is then for Parliament to decide whether it approves and supports them. On our side of the House, Members of Parliament actually vote on who should be nominated on to Select Committees. On the Lords reform statement, yes, it was promised that it would happen before the House rises, and that will be the case.
As regards the very important question of inquests for those in our armed services who have tragically lost their lives in Iraq, we have the Coroners Bill in the legislative programme that we will debate before the House rises. The problems that arose in Oxfordshire that caused so much heartache to bereaved relatives and were very difficult to sort out would not have arisen in such a way if the coroners legislation were already in force. The Bill is an important one that will do much to remedy the situation. I reaffirm that there is not a backlog of inquests in Wiltshire arising from the fact that bodies are now repatriated to RAF Lyneham. Officials in the Justice Department will discuss with the Wiltshire coroner how they can keep up to date and ensure that he has the resources he needs.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the state of the Prison Service. The suicide rate is actually down from the level it reached in 1997, but any suicide is one too many, and it is a matter of concern that there has been an increase in the suicide rate compared with last year. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice is addressing that matter, and the hon. Gentleman can no doubt ask about it during Justice questions next week.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Is there going to be a very strong protest from the Government against the insistence of the Iranian regime again to start stoning people to death, in order to raise the issue internationally? Is it not totally undesirable that in the 21st century such a barbaric practice should be encouraged and carried out by the Iranian regime? One hopes that efforts will be made by the Government to make it an international issue.
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend has made a very important point indeed. This country, along with our counterparts in Europe, and working internationally through the United Nations, wants to be sure that we not only protect the human rights of people in this country, but that we are a strong force for the defence of human rights internationally. No doubt we shall raise that matter through the international institutions.
Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham) (Con): Can the Leader of the House explain why it has been comprehensively leaked that the Government are proposing to abolish regional assemblies? Yesterday the media carried stories that the Prime Minister wished to undo the handiwork of the former Deputy Prime Minister. It is quite wrong that such important decisions are made in this way. We were promised a document or a Green Paper today, but it has not appeared because of some last-minute hitch. It is vital that Parliament is kept up to date and told what the Government intend to do about this important matter.
Ms Harman: I cannot comment on what the hon. Gentleman says about reports in the newspapers, but I agree that the question of local governance and regional assemblies is an important issue that concerns Members throughout the House. If any policy is to be announced, or change to be made, it should be done in this House, and no doubt it will be.
Mr. Jim Hood (Lanark and Hamilton, East) (Lab): May I first say how delighted I am with the appointment of the new Leader of the House, and welcome her to her position? I am particularly pleased with her promise to protect the rights of Back Benchers.
Is the Leader of the House aware that the Scottish Grand Committee has not met at all during this Parliament? Will she have a word with the new Secretary of State for Scotland and ask him to discuss the matter with the usual channels in order to call a Scottish Grand Committee as soon as possible? It is long overdue and if she wants to protect the rights of Back Benchers, a Scottish Grand Committee would be the best way to do that.
Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this matter to my attention. I will do as he suggests and raise it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. Hon. Members can raise issues during this question time, and it provides an important opportunity for them to do so, but if issues arise between Thursdays, they are all welcome to come to talk to me in my office, which is outside, behind the Speakers Chairturn left, and it is the second on the right.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Presumably the new Foreign Secretary will open next Thursdays debate on Zimbabwe. If so, will the Leader of the House ensure that he says in the simplest and clearest terms that it is totally unacceptable for Mugabe to come to the EU-Africa summit in Lisbon? That summit will achieve a lot and it should go ahead, but it should not do so if Mugabe comes. If we are to protect human rights in Zimbabwe and stand up for the people there, it is essential that the Foreign Secretary makes our position absolutely clear. He would have support for that from all parts of the House.
Ms Harman: That position has already been made clear by the Government and no doubt it will be reinforced. There will be a debate on Zimbabwe next week. There is a great strength of feeling throughout the House on this matter, and a great deal of frustration and concern for those who are suffering in Zimbabwe.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): The reputation and success of British companies abroad, particularly in the United States, rests largely on their responsible behaviour and support for international labour laws. Will the Leader of the House give us time before the House rises for the summer to debate the behaviour of bus companies operating abroad, and whether they are supporting sensible and important trade union rights that are fundamental to any Member of this House?
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