Previous Section Index Home Page

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) has secured a debate on the Barnett formula
15 Nov 2007 : Column 829
next week, when no doubt we shall hear the usual nonsense about relative spending in the United Kingdom. Given the finding by Oxford Economics that there is more public spending per head in London than in Scotland, surely we should debate the matter on the Floor of the House and put to bed once and for all the nonsense peddled by the Conservatives about subsidy and Scotland.

Ms Harman: As the hon. Gentleman said, there will be a debate on the Barnett formula in Westminster Hall next week.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I strongly endorse what was said by the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig).

Forty-five days ago, we raised the minimum legal age for purchasing tobacco products to 18. Can the Leader of the House tell us whether, if any of those who entered today’s ballot for private Members’ Bills are successful, the Government will back the sentiments of early-day motion 235, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Ms Butler)?

[ That this House welcomes the increased legal minimum age of sale for tobacco products from 16 to 18 years of age; notes that, according to a recent survey by the British Retail Consortium, retail crime has increased by 50 per cent.; notes retailers' concern that they may face intimidation or violence as a result of the change and that smaller independent retailers are at greatest risk; further notes that fixed penalty notices can be issued to those under the age of 18 years who attempt to buy alcohol; considers that if it was an offence for those under the age of 18 years to attempt to purchase tobacco this would act as a deterrent to children from doing so and relieve pressure on shop owners and reduce potential violence; and calls upon the Government to bring forward proposals to bring into line the legal penalties for the attempted purchase of tobacco with that of alcohol as well as increasing support in all areas for under 18s to quit smoking.]

I tabled an amendment, early-day motion 325A1, which reads:

after ‘proposals’ , insert both to ban cigarette vending machines from which under 1 8s can buy tobacco products and’.

The amended motion envisages the creation of an offence of attempting to purchase tobacco under 18—similar to the existing offence involving alcohol, and attracting a fixed penalty notice—and the banning of cigarette vending machines, which constitute a way of overcoming the important public health legislation introduced on 1 October.

Ms Harman: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s persistent campaigning for better public health, which is ensuring that there is less damage to the health of people who take up smoking and continue to smoke. I will draw his comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): The interpretation of new driving licence regulations involving minibuses in a way that was never intended in the legislation may have disastrous consequences for the ability of schools to field teams and provide sports, extra-curricular activities and, indeed, other types of activity. Is there any prospect of a debate on that?

15 Nov 2007 : Column 830

Ms Harman: I will bring the issue to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families as well as that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, but the hon. Gentleman could also make it the subject of an Adjournment debate.

Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate next week on the impact of unnecessary bureaucracy on farmers? My constituent Mr. John Collinson, who has farmed for 40 years, is now having to attend a course on how to put a trailer on the back of a Land Rover and another course on how to drive cattle from one side of his yard to another. Such bureaucracy imposes an unnecessary burden on a struggling industry, and I hope that the Government will give priority to a debate on it.

Ms Harman: I will bring the hon. Gentleman’s comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Let me add, however, that one of the most important causes of increased record-keeping among farmers is the importance of public health and disease prevention, and we must ensure above all that that continues.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): May I echo the request by the shadow Leader of the House for a debate on the Government of all the talents? Lord West, probably one of the finest naval officers of the post-war years, told the truth and was then undermined by the Government. Lord Drayson has gone racing, Lord Darzi is part-time, Lord Malloch-Brown has confused everyone and Lord Jones will not vote. The only person who has come out of this with any credit is my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), who had to tell the Government what to do.

Ms Harman: I will not be suggesting that as a topic for debate. As the House will know, the question of ministerial appointments is a matter for the Prime Minister.

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): Please will the Leader of the House ask the Minister with responsibility for roads to come to the House on Tuesday and make a statement on the A303 Stonehenge upgrade project? Twenty-one years ago, when the Leader of the House and I were fresh young Members, it was identified as a flagship project. Ten years ago the Culture, Media and Sport Committee branded Stonehenge a national disgrace, and there was a public inquiry. Three years ago the inspector submitted a report to Ministers, but a decision has not yet been announced. We need an announcement, not just for the benefit of my constituents who regularly experience gridlock but for the benefit of the whole economy of the south-west and, above all, for the sake of the heritage aspect of Stonehenge. It is a world heritage site. If we do not get a decision soon we shall have years more dither, and we cannot afford that as a nation.

Ms Harman: I remind the hon. Gentleman that he and I are still only approaching our prime. As for the A303, the Department for Transport is considering it. No doubt the hon. Gentleman has made representations which the Department is considering sympathetically.

15 Nov 2007 : Column 831

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Early-day motion 279 is entitled “Scope’s no voice, no choice campaign”.

[That this House notes the significant difficulty many disabled people with communication impairments face in getting the Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) equipment they need to communicate; further notes that as many as 600,000 people in the UK could benefit from access to AAC equipment; further notes that without the means to communicate people cannot express themselves freely, discuss ideas or make choices, which severely limits their life chances; further notes that freedom of expression is a fundamental right enshrined in the Human Rights Act 1998; regrets that access to AAC equipment remains a lottery for most people based on age, postcode and education status; further regrets that 23 per cent. of respondents to Scope's recent No Voice, No Choice survey had not had an assessment of their communication needs before they were 16 years old; further regrets that over one quarter of respondents to the same survey had to pay for equipment themselves or ask a charity because they could not get their equipment funded by a statutory agency; and calls on the Government to recognise communication as a fundamental right and ensure that people with communication impairments of all ages get the AAC equipment and support they need so they can lead more independent lives, access work, leisure and education opportunities and fulfil their potential as full citizens.]

May we please have a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House next week on the provision of alternative and augmentative equipment for those with communication impairments who need such equipment? Given that Scope and others have estimated that approximately 600,000 people in the country could benefit from such equipment, given that 23 per cent. of people who need it are not assessed for it until they reach the age of 16, and given that more than a quarter of deserving cases cannot obtain statutory funding for such aids and must therefore either pay for them themselves or secure charitable support, is it not high time that we had a debate on how we can improve provision so that people who are in desperate need can lead independent lives, gain access to education, work and leisure and have the opportunity to realise their full potential?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman has just demonstrated that he is one of the talents. He has proved the point that we want to listen to people with deep convictions, a great deal of experience and something to contribute to the Government’s work. I will bring his serious and important points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, as I know the hon. Gentleman does himself.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Kettering hospital, which my constituents must attend, has the worst rate of Clostridium difficile in the country. Their chance of contracting it is three times the national average. Unfortunately one of my constituents caught the infection on going into hospital, and died some months later. When the relatives went to register the
15 Nov 2007 : Column 832
death, the registrar wanted to put something other than C. difficile on the death certificate. When the relatives queried it, the registrar said, “We do not like to put it down because it makes our figures look bad.” May we have a debate in Government time—while the Leader of the House is still in her prime—on the fact that the Government seem to be fiddling the figures rather than dealing with the underlying problem?

Ms Harman: An Opposition day debate on hospital-acquired infections will take place next week, and no doubt the hon. Gentleman will be able to raise those points then.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Could one of the early topical debates be on housing expansion and infrastructure, concentrating on the lack of co-ordination between the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Transport? The Government’s housing expansion programme for the borough of Kettering envisages the building of 13,100 extra houses by 2021, increasing the local population by a third; yet last week the Highways Agency confirmed that it would issue proposals to restrict local vehicular access from Kettering to the A14, which is the main road through my constituency.

Ms Harman: I will take that as a suggestion for a subject for next week’s topical debate. Should I choose it, I imagine that we would hear many Labour Members concerned to ensure that there is more affordable housing to rent and to buy so that people can have the housing they want to meet rising expectations. I would also expect Opposition Members to say that they did not want any extra housing, with the Opposition Front Bench saying different things depending on what day of the week it was.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): The Leader of the House will know—I wrote to her last week with the information—that the performance of Government Departments in answering named day questions varies; some are very good, some are very poor. The Ministry of Defence and the Department for Work and Pensions are particularly appalling. The MOD answers only 22 per cent. of named day questions on the due date and the DWP answers only 30 per cent. Mr. Speaker, I know the importance that you attach to Ministers answering questions from hon. Members on a timely basis. What action will the Leader of the House take to get her more recalcitrant Government colleagues to pull their socks up and treat this House with courtesy and respect?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. I thank him for the information that he has brought to my attention, which I shall raise forcefully with my ministerial colleagues. The whole point of this House is to hold the Executive to account. Ministers do not operate on their own behalf; they operate in the public interest and are accountable to this place for what they do. Parliamentary questions are very important in that respect, and I shall take forward the hon. Gentleman’s points.

15 Nov 2007 : Column 833

Points of Order

12.11 pm

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Earlier in business questions, the Leader of the House said that my London borough has more police officers now than it did in 1997. I have just had time to go and check. May I refer her to a parliamentary question from the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey)—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am going to stop the hon. Lady. She should remember that I was an Opposition Back Bencher, and the one thing she will learn is that you are sometimes disappointed by the answers that Ministers give. [ Interruption. ] No, it is not the done thing to raise a matter as a point of order because you are unhappy with the reply. If the wrong information was given, there are other ways of dealing with it.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The matter is whether the Leader of the House gave correct information to this House. The Leader may have inadvertently—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The right hon. Lady has more experience than the young Back Bencher; I do not want to be patronising. Ministers give replies in good faith and I will not allow an hon. Member who feels that information is wrong to use points of order. There are other ways to raise these matters. I do not wish to prolong the matter— [ Interruption. ] I hope that the right hon. Lady is not challenging me. I am in a good mood today and I do not want to be in a bad mood.

15 Nov 2007 : Column 834

Bills presented

Housing and Regeneration

Secretary Hazel Blears, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Des Browne, Secretary Hilary Benn, Mr. Secretary Hutton, Yvette Cooper and Mr. Iain Wright, presented a Bill to establish the Homes and Communities Agency and make provision about it; to abolish the Urban Regeneration Agency and the Commission for the New Towns and make provision in connection with their abolition; to regulate social housing; to enable the abolition of the Housing Corporation; to make provision about sustainability certificates, landlord and tenant matters, building regulations and mobile homes; to make further provision about housing; and for connected purposes. And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday 19 November, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 8].

Health and Social Care

Secretary Alan Johnson, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Jacqui Smith, Secretary Des Browne, Mr. Secretary Hutton, Mr. Secretary Hain, Secretary Hazel Blears, Secretary Ed Balls, Mr. Secretary Woodward and Mr. Ben Bradshaw, presented a Bill to establish and make provision in connection with a Care Quality Commission; to make provision about health care (including provision about the National Health Service) and about social care; to make provision about reviews and investigations under the Mental Health Act 1983; to establish and make provision in connection with an Office of the Health Professions Adjudicator and make other provision about the regulation of the health care professions; to confer power to modify the regulation of social care workers; to amend the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984; to provide for the payment of a grant to women in connection with pregnancy; to amend the functions of the Health Protection Agency; and for connected purposes. And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday 19 November, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 9].

15 Nov 2007 : Column 835

Topical Debate


12.14 pm

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Liam Byrne): I beg to move,

Mr. Speaker, I am very grateful for the opportunity to open this debate and to break some new ground in the modernisation of this place. As the House will imagine, I was delighted to be informed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House earlier this week that I would have the honour of opening this debate. I think that we can say with a rare degree of confidence that this afternoon’s debate is certainly a question and is certainly topical.

I am delighted that the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) is to answer for the Opposition. We are fast becoming pioneers of constitutional innovation; I reject the label “guinea pig”. Both of us saw the UK Borders Act 2007 through one of the first public evidence sessions at Committee stage. I can assure the House that although a Conservative, the hon. Member for Ashford gives an excellent impression of being someone comfortable with the modern world. Indeed, that is one of the reasons why he is such a successful deputy to the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis).

I do not plan to detain the House for long, as today is an opportunity for us to hear from right hon. and hon. Members about one of the most important questions in public life today. I will confine my remarks to a few points. Eighteen months ago my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid) provided the House with one of the more memorable analyses of what he felt he found in a Government Department. He later asked me to lead a programme of reform, which is now beginning to deliver results. My right hon. Friend said at the time that change would not be instant, but nevertheless reform of migration control was essential and achievable. He said at the time that

A year and a bit on, I believe that we are beginning to see some of these reforms bear fruit. We are around 100 days away from the introduction of a points system for migration control, which means that only those whom this country needs will be able to come and work and study.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): My hon. Friend says that the points system will control the numbers of people coming into this country. I should have thought that there was huge support among voters for that strategy. However, it will do nothing about the numbers coming from the new accession countries. What plans do the Government and our colleagues in Europe have to try to control the mass movement of people here from those countries? How many people does he estimate will come from the accession countries over the next few years?

Next Section Index Home Page