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we fully expect to be able to get that money back.
Now he refuses to say for certain that the money will ever be paid back. There are many questions still to be answered. What is the total Government liability? What arrangements are in place if the Government need a supplementary estimate to cover their liabilities? How are they accounting for the liabilities, and are those liabilities on or off balance sheet? What estimate has
been made of the effect on the public sector borrowing requirement? Will the Chancellor make another Northern Rock statement, so that he can answer those questions?
On Tuesday we discovered that the Government had lost the personal details of 25 million men, women and children. The Prime Minister says that he profoundly regrets what has happened, but that is not much consolation to the millions of families who have been left to follow the Chancellors advice to check their bank statements. According to a written answer given just three weeks ago, there were 2,111 security breaches by Her Majestys Revenue and Customs last year alone. Reports today suggest that at least two further CDs are missing. How can the Prime Minister deny that the fiasco is anything but the result of systemic failure? Can we therefore have a debate in Government time on the systemic failure in HMRCa department set up by the Prime Minister?
the banks were adamant that they wanted as much time as possible to prepare for this announcement.[ Official Report, 20 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 1102.]
The BBA did not ask for any more time...None of our members asked for any extra time.
That directly contradicts what the Chancellor told hon. Members. He must come to the House and set the record straight. The Chancellor also said repeatedly that the decisions were taken by junior officials. However, we know that it was a senior business manager who took the decision to put the information on to the discs and that that was done with the knowledge of the director of HMRC, process owner for tax credits and child benefits. Yet another thing that the Chancellor told the House has been contradicted, so will he come to the House to make an urgent statement and tell us the true version of events?
The Northern Rock fiasco and the HMRC scandal tell us everything that we need to know about the Government: they are incompetent, insincere and in deep trouble. Is it not time that somebody just got a grip?
Ms Harman: The right hon. Lady raised the matter of Heathrow. The point is that there is a process of consultation. If she wants to put her views into the consultation on behalf of her constituents, I suggest that she do so. A written ministerial statement has been made to the House on the subject of the consultation. When conclusions are reached as a result of hearing from all those who put in their views to the consultation, including hon. Members, and when there are firm proposals for action, no doubt the Secretary of State for Transport will bring those matters to the House. Hon. Members will know the difference between launching a consultation and having firm proposals. When there are firm proposals, they must be brought to the House for announcement.
The right hon. Lady made a number of points about Northern Rock and about Revenue and Customs. Of course, when sudden problems arise the duty of the Government is clear. First, it is to ensure that individuals
are protected from any personal damage or any potential problems. Secondly, our duty is to ensure that there is an investigation to discover what actually happened and why. I do not intend to pre-empt any of those investigations by answering the questions that are subject to them. Thirdly, it is our duty to take steps to ensure that those problems do not happen again. That is the duty of the Government, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is doing exactly that.
John Battle (Leeds, West) (Lab): I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend and other Members will agree that, since last weeks business questions, we have had a hectic week. As far as I am aware, however, in the space of that week, no one has lost their home or their savings from Northern Rock, and the banks have guaranteed that anyone who has a bank account will be protected against computer fraud. In the meantime, more than 3 million people have lost their homes [ Interruption. ]
John Battle: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In the meantime, last week, more than 3,000 people have lost their lives and more than 3 million have lost their homes, livelihoods and families. Can we therefore have a debate on Bangladesh, and give some support to the emergency aid programme in the next week?
Ms Harman: In response to my right hon. Friends point, I reiterate that the first duty of the Government is to ensure that people are protected from actual or potential damage, and that is what the Chancellor is doing. My right hon. Friend mentioned the cyclone in Bangladesh. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has issued a written ministerial statement on that subject. It is a matter of great concern, and I am sure that he will report back to the House on it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (John Battle) might also wish to propose the matter as the subject for a topical debate.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Given that the biggest domestic issue has been the failure of the Government to ensure that one of their agencies looked after a huge amount of personal information, will the Leader of the House accept a formal request on behalf of my colleagues and myself for next Thursdays topical debate to be on the subject of the failure of the Government to protect data across the Government and all their agencies? Will she also ensure that Ministers come to the House to explain their accountability for the failures of civil servants in Government Departments and agencies?
When we have had that debate, will the Leader of the House ensure that we have a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House on the implications of this weeks serious news for the debate that the Government want us to have on the implementation of identity cards? That proposal must be called into question by the failures of this week, and we need to
assess the stupidity of the proposal early, so that we do not waste any more public money by going down that completely unhelpful road.
Yesterday, Ministers joined the Director of Public Prosecutions in saying that they were opposed to an increase in the 28-day limit on detention. May we have an early opportunity to question Ministers on the state of the Governments negotiations on any change in the balance between liberty and security that would put the traditional liberties of the British people at risk?
The Government were represented yesterday by a very junior MinisterI am not being disrespectfulat what was meant to be a high-level conference in Rome to mark the 10th anniversary of the international anti-bribery convention. Will Ministers come to the House to explain what the benefit or disbenefit has been to this country of the decision not to continue the investigation into alleged corruption between BAE Systems and the Saudi Government, while we are trying to persuade other countries around the world to adopt strong anti-corruption regimes?
Mr. Speaker, you were kind enough to allow me to withdraw my debate on Sri Lanka for family reasons last week. However, the Commonwealth conference is taking place this week, and there are clearly important issues to be discussed, including Pakistan and the terrible civil war in Sri Lanka. Can we be assured that the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister will make a statement on the Commonwealth conference, to allow us to ask questions about those two very troubled parts of the Commonwealth, which are a matter of great concern to people in this country?
Ms Harman: As the Prime Minister reminded the House yesterday, 22 of the 25 European countries have ID cards. One of the best ways of protecting against identity fraud is secure, checkable identity verification via biometric data, and that is what ID cards would provide. The hon. Gentleman will be able to raise the issue in Home Office questions next Monday.
The hon. Gentleman suggested a subject for a topical debate next week. I shall accept that as a representation. He also raised the question of the 28 days detention, and the Governments discussion of whether the period should be extended. He will be able to raise that issue during Mondays Home Office questions as well. However, I remind him that if we are advised by the head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, by the Governments independent reviewer Lord Carlile and by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner that there is a case for extension, and if we can be satisfied that there are sufficient safeguards, it will be right for us proceed. I hope that we shall be able to reach all-party agreement. Perhaps the House recalls that although the Conservative party wants to abolish it, we introduced the Human Rights Act 1998 to ensure that whatever proposals the House may come up with, peoples human rights and civil liberties are protected.
The hon. Gentleman asked about BAE Systems and the investigation by the Serious Fraud Office. On numerous occasions the House has been given information about the cessation of one particular inquiry in that respect.
Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a wider debate on aviation? At present the focus is on airports that may be expanding. Will she ensure that we can consider airports such as Gatwick, which play an important role in our airport network and supply many good jobs for people, to ensure that they do not shrink in the light of the expansion of other airports?
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): As the next statement is to be on pandemic influenza, may we be reassured that the Government will not be announcing that they have mislaid their stockpile of Tamiflu?
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): There is a convention that the Government respond to Select Committee reports within two months. The Public Administration Committee recently had to wait 16 months for a Government response, and it is quite common for responses to be received after more than two months. In the circumstances, can it be a matter of policy to timetable debates on Select Committee reports when the Government have not responded?
Ms Harman: Obviously it is important for Departments to respond promptly to departmental Select Committee reports. I shall take my hon. Friends question as a prompt for me to check the state of play on all the outstanding Select Committee reports that have yet to receive a Government response. The question of which reports are debated is also important, and I shall look into that as well.
Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset) (Con): While the Leader of the House is considering questions of data management, may I request a debate on one aspect of data, namely the Governments awareness of where local elections are taking place? A postmaster in my constituency reports that she has received a letter saying that she cannot be told when her post office will beor may beclosed because of forthcoming local elections and political sensitivity. However, we shall not be having any local elections in West Dorset in the coming year.
Ms Harman: I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber at the time, but this matter was raised earlier today in questions to my ministerial colleagues in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, and the House was reminded that the usual rules are being applied. I will look into the particular point that he raises.
Mr. Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington, East) (Lab):
While the Government were absolutely right to apologise unreservedly for the loss of data records at the child benefit centre, does the Leader of the House agree that this issue should not be used as an opportunity
to condemn all staff who work at the centre, and who deliver year in and year out an important and much-needed benefit to millions of families? Will she provide an opportunity for the support of staff to be included in any reviews that are conducted?
Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for making that important point about the work of some of his constituents, and I will draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. Obviously, lessons have to be learned, but we also recognise that Revenue and Customs employees are getting on with the important work of paying out child benefits and tax credits, which are vital to millions of families. Under this Government, child benefit has increased by more than 50 per cent.
Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): The ward of Norcross in my constituency hosts the Department for Work and Pensions computer databases and the Ministry of Defence pensions databases. Will the Leader of the House find time next week for the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to make a statement giving assurances that none of the data from those databases has been leaked? It is important that we know why information has gone astray, and whether the Government have got a grip on the situation across Whitehall.
Ms Harman: Members will know that, together with the Information Commissioner, Mark Walport is looking into the question of data security in both the public and the private sector. No doubt a report will be brought before this House at the appropriate time, when further questions can be asked.
Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Will it be possible to have a debate next week on the non-implementation of low pay legislation provisions in respect of home workers? Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Hamilton) met a number of home workersall of them women, and many of them Asian womenwho are clearly not being dealt with in a fair manner by their so-called employers. I strongly feel that this matter ought to be looked at. The employers are dodging minimum pay legislation by saying that the women are self-employed; they are not.
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Despite the extra protection this Government have introduced for people at workin particular, vulnerable employeesthere is still exploitation. A forthcoming Bill will seek to address that, and my hon. Friend can raise such points in discussions on it.
Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): Eighty-five per cent. of dentists surveyed by the British Dental Association say they do not believe that the new dental contract offers sufficient access to care, and 95 per cent. say they have less confidence now than two years ago in the future of NHS dentistry. Will the Leader of the House secure an early debate on the future of NHS dentistry?
Ms Harman: The Government remain very concerned to increase access to, and the quality of, dental services. The hon. Gentleman might consider applying for an Adjournment debate in this Chamber on the matter, or a Westminster Hall debate.
Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the prime concern of all us in Britain today should be British manufacturing? It is a wealth-creating sector that provides good employment, and its products are value-added. The House should be discussing how we can support the sector in order to minimise risk. The investment required is colossal and the profit from it comes slowly. We need to look into this issue and ensure that Government policies on research and development and product development and innovation do not have a disincentivising effect in the sector, which accounts for 30 per cent. of the north-easts GDP.
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point on manufacturing, which some Members also emphatically made in this mornings questions to Ministers in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, who expressed their total commitment to British manufacturing and the future of manufacturing in this country. I will draw my hon. Friends points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families as he takes forward the diploma programme so that we make sure that the country has the skills to underpin our manufacturing industry, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, because of the important apprenticeship programme. Not only are the Government well aware of the importance of manufacturing, but we are doing everything we can to underpin its success in the future.
Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): May we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Transport on Heathrow expansion? My constituents have no information in the consultation document launched today that they trust, on which to base their decisions on what to say in response to that consultation. I have been trying for five months to get hold of the detailed environmental analysis that BAA has had and that the Department for Transport has been modelling to. Why are the Government unwilling to be accountable in any way whatsoever to the people whom they exist to serve?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friends are reminding me that there will be a Westminster Hall debate on Heathrow next week, which the hon. Lady could no doubt contribute to. Since she has taken the opportunity of[Hon. Members: It is half an hour.] Okay, sorry about that; the hon. Lady might apply for a Westminster Hall debate on Heathrow. Nevertheless, since she has taken the opportunity to ask me a question this week, perhaps I can remind her of a question she asked me last week, on which she challenged me and said that I had given the wrong answer in respect of police numbers in her constituency. I have checked the numbers, and I gave the right answer.
John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) (Lab): May I draw my right hon. and learned Friends attention to an all-party thrombosis group report published on Monday that showed that fewer than a third of acute hospitals in England undertake a mandatory risk assessment of patients for venous thromboembolismVTE? As more than seven months have passed since the chief medical officer recommended universal mandatory assessments, and since as many as 11,000 patients might have died from this hospital-acquired disease, will she find time for a debate on the subject?
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