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The Bill transfers the statutory duty for making arrangements for the provision of probation services to the Secretary of State. This does not mean that the Secretary of State
will commission everything directly. ... The Bill also enables the Secretary of State to delegate this responsibility to the probation trust, or another lead provider, and this is what will happen in practice.
That did not come out very clearly in yesterdays debate. It ought to be in the Bill. Could the right hon. and learned Lady invite the Secretary of State for Justice, the former Leader of the House, to come here and put on record what he said in the letter that he sent only to the hon. Member for Walthamstow?
Ms Harman: I think that that was exactly the subject of the debate on the Offender Management Bill. It seems to me that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice has set that position out. So, as I see it, he is not giving new information on a selective basis to one hon. Member. It is the position as it is in the Bill.
I perhaps failed to answer the question asked by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead about parliamentary privilege in relation to pensions. It is of course the case that this House, as the elected House, rightly reserves to itself decisions on financial matters. No hon. Member in this House would think it right for us to allow the House of Lords to make decisions on financial matters. If that is the parliamentary privilege that the right hon. Lady was talking about, I think that we should stand by it.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): While any change about recalling Parliament is to be welcomedI remember what the Prime Minister saidmay I ask the question that the Opposition parties are not willing to put to my right hon. and learned Friend? Why is Parliament closing down next week for 11 weeks? Is there real justification for such a long break, even though constituency work is obviously undertaken? A shorter break would certainly be much appreciated.
Ms Harman: I am sure that my hon. Friend would not want to convey the impression that there is not a great deal of constituency work going on while the House is not sitting. There is a constant balance between hon. Members working in their constituencies and properly holding the Government to account. We need to do both. My hon. Friend will know that we have tried different ways to get around this. We have to accommodate the party conferences, but we have introduced the opportunity for Parliament to scrutinise the Executive by asking questions during the recess. That is a welcome step forward.
[That this House acknowledges the distinguished service of the hon. Member for Calder Valley to the Council of Europe over nine years; applauds her contribution to the work of the Social Health and Family Affairs Committee, often acting as rapporteur on key human rights issues; recognises her pioneering work on the Equal Opportunities Committee and on the Sub Committee on Children and Sub Committee on Violence Against Women; pays tribute to her abilities in her role as Chair of the Labour Group; and wishes her well in the forthcoming election for Leader of the Labour Group on the UK Delegation to the Council of Europe.]
It refers to the position of leader of the UK delegation to the Council of Europe. The motion states that there
is to be a contest for the position between the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty). I understand that the election is to take place next week. As the Leader of the House will know, the Council of Europe is a guardian of democracy and, as she will also know, the UK delegation is an all-party delegation. Will she assure the House that in the interests of democracy every member of the delegation will be entitled to vote in that election next week?
Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider a debate on the role of contractors in the building industry, such as Lovell, which has done a considerable amount of valuable regeneration work in my constituency, paid for mainly out of the public purse? However, those large contractors are impervious to looking after the individuals who take on the homes that they have constructed. Lovell has an appalling record on rectifying the faults in those homes. Given that public money goes into making Lovell large profits, should we not have a debate about public control of those large contractors and how they fulfil their obligations to the people that we want to help?
Ms Harman: We want more homes, and more affordable homes, to rent and to buy, and to make sure that they are of the highest quality, including to the highest environmental standards. My hon. Friend has raised an important point that I shall bring to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing.
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): The Government have caused some confusion with the announcement about changes to public service agreement targets. Will the Leader of the House arrange for an oral statement on the issue of adoption targets and whether they are to be cancelled? Roughly between 15 and 20 children are wrongfully adopted every week and it would be useful to clarify the situation before the recess.
Ms Harman: We want to ensure that those children who cannot be with their parents because of the risk of neglect or abuse are properly taken into care. If a permanent placement can be found for such children with a family by way of adoption, we would all agree that that is much better than leaving them in a childrens home or moving them from one foster carer to another. On targets, my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary is reviewing targets. We want to make sure that we do not have more than are necessary and that they are mutually consistent, but we must not lose sight of the fact that people want the Government and public services to do important things. If a target is able to focus work in that respect, that is what we should do. One example is cutting waiting times for hospital treatment.
Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab):
May I congratulate the Government on scrapping regional assemblies, on introducing regional Select Committees and on the proposals for regional questions and a regional Minister? Those are welcome changes, and
something for which many Members have called for a long time. Can I ask about the time scales? When will the regional Select Committees be up and running? How will regional questions operate? Will they be held in this Chamber or in Westminster Hall?
Ms Harman: As I announced, the motions relating to Select Committee changes will be discussed on Wednesday. I thank my hon. Friend for her welcome for the work of the Government in focusing on the regions. One of the reasons why we have seen consistent and sustained economic growth is that we have focused on concerns region by region. That is what we continue to do to make the work of the Government in each region more accountable.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May we have an early debate on the Governments strategic objectives in Iraq and Afghanistan? Many of us believe that the cost in terms of lives and casualties in Iraq outweighs any political or military objective that we can reasonably obtain and, in Helmand province in Afghanistan, we have taken to ourselves objectives on which we cannot succeed, given the existing troop levels, and the casualties are too high.
Ms Harman: As we are nearly into the recess, I cannot offer the right hon. and learned Gentleman a debate next week. Obviously it is too late to apply for a debate on the Adjournment, on which he could raise this issue. I will bring his points to the attention of ministerial colleagues; this is something to which we will no doubt return in the autumn.
Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend urge the relevant Department to undertake to commission some work to determine the extent of international cold-calling, whereby UK businesses using overseas call centres escape the telephone preference scheme and cause significant distress to our constituents?
Ms Harman: I will draw this to the attention of my ministerial colleague. This is a matter for Ofcom, but it is also a question of social and public responsibility. British companies need to act responsibly in this country and abroad and certainly should not be able to get around any provision designed to help consumers and the public.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): The BBC used to be, and should be, a cherished and trusted national institution. May we have a debate about the recent disappointments and, in particular, the BBCs pro-European bias, which flies in the face of the fact that 70 per cent. of the British public want looser ties with Europe?
The BBC has recognised the need to rebuild trust and is still a very much cherished institution. On Europe, we all recognise that there are some issues on which we cannot work individually as a country. We cannot do as much as we need to do on climate change acting on our own; we cannot do as much as we want to do on international development and the menace of human trafficking acting on our
own. Therefore, in the interests of this country and the world, we have to act with our European colleagues.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) has secured a timely debate in Westminster Hall next Wednesday on UK relations with Russia. May we have a written statement before then about the extraordinary circumstances in which a man was arrested by the Metropolitan police and accused of conspiracy to prepare the murder of Mr. Berezovsky? The Metropolitan police took the man to Heathrow, put him on a plane and said, Shoo, shoo, go away. Against the backdrop of last Mondays events, that is an extraordinary situation and Parliament should be told what is going on. It seems that Berezovsky is running this country, rather than being a visitor. It is now time for a degree of candour in advance of the debate next Wednesday. Why was this man put on an aeroplane after we had heard all the nonsense on Monday about the rule of law? Discuss.
Ms Harman: I am here to explain the business of the House. My hon. Friend has raised the question of the debate in Westminster Hall next week, which Members can attend if they want. Allegations of criminal activity are independently investigated by the police. I am sure that my hon. Friend will acknowledge that the police exercise their powers independently, and not only would nobody try to lean on themit would be wrong if they didbut they would protest and resist if they were lent on. If there were sufficient evidence for a prosecution, it would be passed to the Crown Prosecution Service, which would decideagain independentlywhether a prosecution should be pursued. If a non-British national is involved and the CPS wants to bring them to justice in this country, it will notify the immigration authorities that it wishes a stay on any deportation proceedings. I am confident that that is what happened in this case. Allegations have been made, but I can assure the House that the independence of the police and the prosecution service obtain.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): We need a statement on the Governments drugs strategy, especially after this mornings eventsMinisters were falling over themselves to admit to past cannabis indiscretions. Does the right hon. and learned Lady agree that no one cares about what we MPs got up to when we were students, and that such events only serve to take us further away from having a grown-up, sensible debate about drugs in our community?
Ms Harman: A grown-up, sensible debate is exactly what we should have, and the Home Secretary is taking that goal forward. We must look at the evidence and examine how best to use the considerable additional resources that we have made available for dealing with drug abuse problems. I pay tribute to those who do the difficult work of helping drug addicts and abusers. We cannot have a grown-up, sensible debate if it involves party political point-scoring. We will issue a consultation document, and any proposals that arise from it will be brought before the House.
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): You, Mr. Speaker, more than anyone will know how long the House has waited for a debate in Government time on Zimbabwe. We will have such a debate this afternoon, but is the Leader of the House aware that the Foreign Secretary will not attend it despite the fact that it has been in his diary since before the last reshuffle and he is not away from London? As there is no Minister for Africa, his absence insults Parliament and the people of Zimbabwe.
Ms Harman: I pay tribute to the work my hon. Friend has done in raising the terrible situation in Zimbabwe. I know that she will wish to contribute to the debate, and it is important that it is taking place. Members should come to the Chamber and listen to the speech of the Minister who attends it, as what is important is what they say and whether it addresses the key problems.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): May I refer to a question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) on the Pensions Bill? The Leader of the House has announced the consideration of Lords amendments for next week. Many Members were hoping to have another opportunity to vote on Lords amendments relating to the lifeboat funds. I understand that that will not now be possible because at a late stage in the progress of the Bill and after the Government have been much criticised, they have precluded any further discussion by invoking financial privilege. How does the Leader of the House reconcile that with all the warm words that have been uttered about restoring power to Parliament?
Ms Harman: I know that the right hon. Gentleman is a great champion of the parliamentary process and of the right of this House to hold the Executive to account, so I am not sure what he is suggesting. Is he suggesting that we allow a decision to be made in the other place that should rightly be made in this House? We must ensure that this House has supremacy when there is disagreement.
Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): I wish to ask the Leader of the House about the dagging of Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions. She will be aware that DEFRA has a wide range of responsibilities. I have listened carefully to what she has said about transparency and holding Departments to account, but if she looks at todays Order Paper she will see that DEFRA questions have been docked of at least 10 minutes. Will she use the recess time to think of a way in which big Departments might receive proper scrutiny and a full amount of Question Timeif possible even more than the hour that we used to get?
Ms Harman: Yes, we will look into the allocation of time for departmental questions; as there have been machinery of government changes, we must look again at that. We will bring forward proposals on it when the House returns in the autumn.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): Has the Leader of the House had a chance to look at early-day motion 1949, asking for support for the report of the cross-party group on childhood leukaemia and electric and magnetic fields, which has over the past year been ably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate)?
[That this House welcomes the launch of the July 2007 Report of the Cross-party Inquiry into Childhood Leukaemia and Extremely Low Frequency Electric and Magnetic Fields (ELF EMF); supports the recommendations of the inquiry which includes a moratorium on the building of new homes and schools within 60 metres of existing high voltage overhead transmission lines, increased funding for research into the link between childhood leukaemia and EMF, the implementation of the Government's SAGE report recommendations, and the protection of homeowners by providing them with information about the levels of EMF in any property; and calls upon the Government to take into account the dangers of EMF in transmission and distribution in its Energy Review and on the Department for Communities and Local Government to take all the inquiry's recommendations into consideration in planning for all new homes and schools.]
Will the Leader of the House find time to get Ministers in the appropriate Department to look at our recommendations, some of which are pressing? We are calling for a moratorium on the building of houses within 60 m of pylons. Will she also ensure that there is dialogue with the Scottish Executive, which is considering the proposal for the Beauly to Denny supergrid? It will be a 400 kW grid and we are calling for a zone around it of 200 m in which schools and houses should not be built. That is a pressing matter. Many children have died from childhood leukaemia that is clearly linked to the proximity of their homes to pylons.
Ms Harman: I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work he does as part of the cross-party group on childhood leukaemia, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) on his chairmanship of that group. It is a difficult subject on which the science is advancing. I will draw this matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.
Mr. Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): Government figures released this week show that robbery offences in Norfolk have risen by a shocking 24 per cent., which is the highest increase in the country. I have consistently called on the Government to provide adequate funding for the Norfolk constabulary. Do not these figures show that the Government have failed to provide Norfolk with sufficient resources for us to have enough of a police presence on our streets? Because of the figures, will the right hon. and learned Lady give time for a debate after the summer recess on rural policing?
Ms Harman: I draw the hon. Gentlemans attention to the fact that there will be a statement on crime reduction in about an hours time, when he might raise his point. Under this Government there have been considerably more resources for the Norfolk constabulary than under the previous Administration, and I pay tribute to the work it does along with local councils and voluntary organisations.
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