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Ms Harman: The negotiations having been concluded and our negotiating objectives having been achieved, the treaty is still in draft as yet, because detailed work is still under way. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman
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already has problems with translation, because it is not a constitutional treaty as he suggests. A translation will be available and there will be an opportunity for the House to discuss it.

Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): May we have a debate about security measures? Last week I applied for a pass for new member of staff and was informed in writing by the Serjeant at Arms that such an application could take longer to process if the applicant had Irish associations. As far as I know, the only Irish association that the applicant might have is with me, as I, like many other hon. Members, am of Irish extraction. Surely security measures should focus on the current potential threat rather than a threat that may have existed in a previous century.

Ms Harman: I know that the Serjeant at Arms, who has responsibility for issuing security passes, tries to ensure that they are made available at the request of hon. Members as quickly as possible. I can remember a time when there was no pass system for the House. The level of threat was so low that people could come in and out of the House without needing a pass, but all hon. Members understand that we now—I regret to say—need effective security measures. As for the point about country of origin, I understand that the Serjeant at Arms undertakes security checks in this country and that foreign nationals also have a security check in their country of origin.

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): Yesterday’s statement on local government reform included proposals for a stronger tier of government in Cornwall. During the process, Cornwall’s MPs were assured that such a structure would be the best way to achieve the longstanding ambition of Cornwall to obtain devolved powers for planning, economic development and other public services that are currently run by unelected agencies in the Government zone of the south-west. As we are now entering the long summer recess, what can the Leader of the House do to ensure that Departments work together to provide Cornwall with a clear document setting out the extent, route map and timetable for devolved powers before irreversible decisions are taken by local authorities?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government tells me that his Department will work with local authorities in Cornwall to take the matter forward. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) is right to recognise that we have tried to devolve power from the centre to local authorities, communities and regions. Strong regional economic development is one of the reasons why we have had steady, sustained economic growth.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time during the long summer recess to talk to the organisers of the three main parties’ annual autumn conferences with a view to trying to break up the three-week block of conferences so that the House can have a more even pattern of sittings and thus a shorter summer recess?

Ms Harman: As I told the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), the House has from time to time changed its September procedures. When conferences are held is not a matter for the House, but for discussion between the parties.

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Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): After 10 years of Labour Government, the latest figures show that burglary in the city of Peterborough has risen by 36 per cent. and robbery by 44 per cent. Cambridgeshire has the fastest growing population of any county in England and our crime rate is above the English average. When can we have a proper debate in Government time on police authority grants that properly reflect population changes year on year, so that we can get more police on the beat to tackle crime?

Ms Harman: In all areas, including the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, there are more police officers, more civilian staff to back them up and more community support officers. No doubt he will join me in thanking all of them for their work in his constituency. The grants have been increased to make that possible.

Mr. Speaker, earlier I said that the Government response on petitions would be in the Vote Office later today. May I put the record straight? In fact, the document has been available in the Vote Office since 11 am.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): Several weeks ago, I raised with my right hon. and learned Friend’s predecessor as Leader of the House Britain’s serious and growing alcohol problems. I expressed concern about the health problems, especially foetal alcohol syndrome, which is a growing problem as more young women drink a lot more. My right hon. Friend, now the Lord Chancellor, expressed some sympathy with my request for a full debate on the Floor of the House about the whole range of Britain’s alcohol problems. Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that it is a possibility?

Ms Harman: It certainly is a possibility. The problem concerns Members on both sides of the House, not only because of the health issues relating to alcohol—my hon. Friend mentioned foetal alcohol syndrome—but also because of crime and disorder. One of the biggest precipitators of domestic violence is excessive drinking. My ministerial colleagues are working seriously on those issues and will no doubt account to the House if they have something to report and want to debate it.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Mr. Speaker, I hope you will allow me to raise two quick matters. The first is in respect of written statements. I shall not use the word abuse, but there is an over-use of written ministerial statements. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government made a written statement yesterday about the restructuring of local government in many important parts of the country, not least Cheshire. That should have been subject to a statement in the House to enable Members to question the Secretary of State.

On the responsibilities of the Leader of the House, does not the right hon. and learned Lady think it is time for her to make a statement in the House about the responsibilities of the Modernisation Committee, which she will chair in due course, and the Procedure Committee? There appears to be a blurring of responsibilities and
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an assumption that the Modernisation Committee should take over matters that I consider are the duties of the Procedure Committee.

Ms Harman: I think it is important that we recognise the different roles of the Modernisation and Procedure Committees although they often work closely together, and I pay tribute to the work of both Committees in making suggestions that have improved the way the House operates. I hope that will continue to be the case.

The hon. Gentleman questioned there being a written statement yesterday on local government issues by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. It is the usual practice for such issues to be dealt with in written statements. Yesterday, we had important oral statements on terrorism and the commissioning of aircraft carriers and it was right that they were oral statements to the House. There is a hierarchy: oral statements and then, if something is not appropriate for an oral statement, written statements. Above all, however, information should be given to the House first.

I am clear in my own mind that it is important for information to be given to the House. It is strange that some Members seem to say that we are having too many written ministerial statements, or indeed too many oral statements. It is a challenge for the business of the House when we want to make important oral and written statements before the House rises, but the most important thing is accountability to the House.

Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): May we have a debate, or even better a Bill, as soon as the House resumes on allowing the House to stop unlimited spending by parliamentary candidates long before an election is called? That was never permissible before 2000 and is permissible now only due to a loophole in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, which was exploited by Lord Ashcroft and many others in the run-up to the 2005 election and is already being exploited in the run-up to the next election. It is urgent that we close the loophole, rather than waiting for a magical consensus on other party funding issues that may never come.

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend raises a very important point indeed. The British people want elections to be fair, not bought by unfair funding arrangements. I hope that the work being undertaken between the parties by Sir Hayden Phillips will reach a speedy conclusion. I reassure my hon. Friend that despite the fact that there was a great deal of spending by the Conservatives in the Ealing, Southall election, we won the argument and, therefore, the vote, but his point about party funding is important and I shall bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice.

Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Con): Does the Leader of the House think there would be value in a statement, or perhaps an Adjournment debate, on the sensitive and difficult issue the Government face in relation to 60 Sri Lankan citizens awaiting deportation who are on hunger strike? They are clearly concerned about what their treatment will be on return to that country.

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Ms Harman: If the hon. Gentleman would like to write to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary with specific details of the case I am sure she will look at it as soon as possible. There is also the opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to raise it, if he so wishes, in the debate on the Adjournment of the House later today.

Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the concern felt by many Members about the erratic sitting hours of the House? Does she agree that it is a bit of a dog’s breakfast and, given that Members elected post-’97 have never had an opportunity to debate the issue, will she find time for such a debate in the autumn?

Ms Harman: The sitting hours of the House are important. Obviously, we need to ensure—especially on Mondays—that Members of Parliament in far-flung constituencies can travel to the House in time for the start of business. I can remember when the House regularly sat throughout the night and I assure Members that it did not enhance scrutiny or opposition one bit. My view on sitting hours is a matter of record. No doubt, they will continue to be a matter for discussion and my hon. Friend rightly raises that point.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Just in case that, when the House returns in October, the most unfortunate prisoner early release scheme is still in place, can the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Justice comes to the Dispatch Box and makes a further statement on it? He might well wish to address a constituent of mine, a serving police officer who, while off duty, was viciously assaulted in one of our local medical centres, only to find that the person who committed that horrible crime had just been released early. I do not think that that police officer, who risks his life day in, day out, quite understands what is going on.

Ms Harman: I express my sympathy to that victim of crime from the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I ask him to bear in mind, though, that one of the things that militates against the rehabilitation of offenders, and which therefore makes it more difficult to prevent reoffending is if the prison regime is not able to do the work with those offenders while they are in prison because there is a problem of overcrowding. I think that all Members in the House would understand that. The early release scheme is only available for prisoners who are serving less than four years and who are within 18 days of release anyway. [Interuption.] I have said that there are certain categories of serious violent crime, such as grievous bodily harm, malicious wounding and homicide, where even if the person is serving a sentence of less than four years, they would not be eligible for the early release scheme; otherwise, if the courts have seen fit to give a person a sentence of less than four years and that person is within 18 days of release, they can be released 18 days early.

I hope that hon. Members think sensibly about this. Obviously we want lower repeat offending and that means that we must focus as much as we can on rehabilitating those who have been sent to prison.

Dan Norris (Wansdyke) (Lab): In the United States of America increasing sums are being spent on higher education, and that is not just from the Government
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but from private sources. In the developing world, places like India and China are also spending huge sums on higher education. May we have an early debate on how the British Government can support UK universities in the competing global economy, to ensure that our universities remain as successful as they have always been?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Education is important for individuals' personal development and it is absolutely essential to our success in a globalised economy, so I will draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): May we have an urgent statement on the postal workers’ dispute? The strike is causing great damage not only to Royal Mail but to small businesses and other people who are heavily dependent on Royal Mail. Management and the unions are not even talking to one another. Will the Government, as a matter of urgency, intervene in the dispute and get both sides round the negotiating table in meaningful talks? Perhaps it is time for a return to beer and sandwiches at No. 10.

Ms Harman: My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out the Government’s position on that yesterday. We hope that there will be a successful conclusion to this dispute, to save further damaging consequences not only for residential users of the mail but for small businesses.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for an early debate on occupational health and safety? She may be aware that the Health and Safety Executive will today release its figures for last year on occupational health and safety, which are expected to show an increase in deaths; in fact the construction industry is expecting that they will show that deaths in construction have increased by about 30 per cent. She will also be aware that since 2000 there have been 200 fewer inspectors, and if the comprehensive spending review imposition is accepted by the Department for Work and Pensions, it follows that year on year we could lose another 700 inspectors. It is important that we have an early debate on health and safety.

Ms Harman: I will draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friends. I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the all-party group on occupational health and safety, which my hon. Friend chairs, and to recognise the contribution that he, as a Member of the House, has made to bringing before the House, and soon into legislation, the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill. I recognise the important work that still needs to be done on safety in the construction industry.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): May we have an early debate on the freedom of expression? We all uphold the right of protest, which is an integral part of our democracy, but under cover of the right of protest, 100 yd from here, we now have a permanent disfigurement, right in the heart of our capital, in the form of an encampment of tents. Is this not an abuse of the right of protest?

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Ms Harman: It is a difficult balance to protect important heritage sites—which is what Parliament square is; an important tourist location—and the ability of the House to go about its business not unduly disturbed by a great deal of noise and shouting through loudspeakers, while at the same time allow the right to protest. It is a subject that is regularly considered by the House.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): I am the proud honorary unpaid adviser to the Port of Tilbury Police Federation, of which I think there are 16 members. I raise that in the context of yesterday’s welcomed announcement that we are going to have a uniformed border force. May I urge the Leader of the House, before the legislation comes before the House, to use her good offices to ensure that the Port of Tilbury police and the other small police forces, which were privatised by a Conservative Government, are consulted, not just about their individual futures, because they could guide this new force on best practice? I also counsel caution that successive Home Secretaries, including the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) who rejected the idea originally, and my right hon. Friends the Members for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) and for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), all rejected this idea, because the police advisers said that it was not a good idea. Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to listen to those in the House who, for the past 15 years, have said that it is a very good idea, and could we have some consultation?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend has a track record of making arguments for a long time and finally getting there. I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State writes to him specifically about the Port of Tilbury police.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): We heard earlier in the House that almost 1 billion adult learning places have been lost over the last five years. That is causing concern in my Lincolnshire constituency, but it is part of a deeper fear about the access to opportunities and the provision of services in rural areas, fuelled by concern about post office closures, inadequate police funding, fire brigades and the centralisation of health services. May we have a debate about the quality of life in rural Britain, because there is a widespread fear in Lincolnshire, and I suspect elsewhere, that this Government have a careless disregard for the countryside?

Ms Harman: I deny that this Government have a disregard for the quality of life in rural Britain and I would remind the hon. Gentleman that we have seen big increases in investment in education for under-fives and school-age children and in further and higher education, and will continue to do so.

Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 2009?

It refers to the appeal for the children of Baghdad, wherein the Iraqi Association in this country is launching an appeal for £250,000 to raise money to develop a clinic in Baghdad to help with the one in eight children who will die this summer. I would ask that this be debated at the next sitting of the House, but there will not be a sitting over the summer and thousands of children will die. Can the Minister ensure that this motion gets to the relevant Departments, to see whether they can help to pay?

Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for bringing the appeal to my attention. I know that he has worked alongside the trade union movement in Iraq and he raises another very good cause, which I will bring to the attention of my ministerial colleagues.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I was very pleased to receive a letter from the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), telling me:

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