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22 Nov 2007 : Column 1342

Ms Harman: I will draw my hon. Friend’s points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. It is important that we do all we can to prevent thrombosis and to improve the treatment for it, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work of his all-party group.

Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): Will the Leader of the House encourage the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to come before the House and explain how he is unravelling the Prime Minister’s bizarre decision to disband the Defence Export Services Organisation and to put some rump of it in UK Trade and Investment, which is in his Department?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman’s colleague, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell), was a bit premature in asking me a question about the statement that is about to be made, but the hon. Gentleman’s question is a bit late, as the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform was in the House standing at the Dispatch Box a few minutes ago to answer topical questions. Let me make a suggestion: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has sought to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, but I would say that this is an important issue for topical questions.

Ms Dawn Butler (Brent, South) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that we are approaching the end of the bicentenary of the legislation on the abolition of the slave trade, and there has been plenty of talk in the House about having an annual remembrance day for slavery, in line with the holocaust memorial day. Will she inform the House whether there is need for further debate, or are we in agreement that that should take place?

Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important point. Obviously, I am pleased that the slavery question and understanding its history is now part of the national curriculum. Whether to have a memorial day is under consideration, and rightly so.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): It is perfectly proper to have an inquiry into the breach of security at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, but surely that should not be an excuse to avoid parliamentary accountability. I hope that the Leader of the House will agree to hold a topical debate next week, not least because the Public Accounts Committee has been informed that rather than this just being about a junior clerk putting the wrong disc in the wrong envelope, it went up, or was copied through, to assistant secretary level—we have been given the name of the official. Parliament should know about this. What is more topical than 25 million people’s personal bank details going out into the ether?

Ms Harman: It is important that this House has the correct and full information, and the Chancellor will, at all stages, be concerned to provide that. Sometimes there will be conflicting information about what happened. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, will agree that we want full, reliable information, and not speculation.

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Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): May we have a debate on the ever-increasing problem of human trafficking into this country? Young women in particular are encouraged to come to this country under the pretence of legitimate employment, only to find themselves locked into prostitution, drugs and crime. Perhaps we can follow the Swedish Government’s example of focusing on reducing demand for prostitution rather than on criminalising vulnerable young women.

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend raises an important point about the demand side of human trafficking. I met the Newspaper Society recently to discuss the problem of local newspapers advertising foreign women in their classified ads and the concern that such newspapers might unwittingly be advertising women who have been abducted and trafficked for sexual purposes. It will report back to me on the action that will be taken. My hon. Friend will also know that we need to work with our counterparts in the European Union on this, and that Ministers are doing so.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on how we can support primary care trusts such as Kingston PCT that are struggling with large historical debts when, as we have heard today, the national health service as a whole is recording a large surplus? How can it make sense for the health service in some parts of the country to experience painful cuts when relatively small one-off debt write-offs, or even a minor rescheduling of debt repayments, can be easily afforded?

Ms Harman: I will bring the hon. Gentleman’s points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, who will doubtless take the opportunity to remind him that the financial resources available in both primary and hospital care in Kingston have hugely increased since 1997 to ensure that his constituents, like all others, receive constantly improving health services. He will be able to table a written question on this, should he choose to do so.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): What progress is being made on the review of European scrutiny?

Ms Harman: The Deputy Leader of the House is consulting the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee about how we can improve this House’s scrutiny of European matters. As my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) will know, we agreed to bring new proposals on how to scrutinise European legislation more effectively to the House before 24 January. Any hon. Member who wants to contribute to those proposals should take the opportunity to raise this with the Deputy Leader of the House.

Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): At 10 am, I attended a conference at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre across the road, at which the Minister with responsibility for road safety, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), gave an excellent speech on road safety. At the end of it, he apologised for his having to leave because of the important announcement on Heathrow. Why is it an important
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announcement on Radio 4 and on the other side of the road, yet does not even warrant a junior Minister giving a statement to this House?

Ms Harman: Perhaps I should remind the hon. Gentleman and the House that the announcement is of a consultation. Ministers are concerned to ensure that everybody knows that a consultation to which they can contribute is taking place. That is doubtless what the Under-Secretary of State for Transport was talking about. The hon. Gentleman, like other hon. Members, will be able to contribute to the consultation. If firm proposals arise from it, they will be brought to this House and not trailed on the “Today” programme.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): In view of the serious implications and damage to every Member of this House, may we have an early opportunity to debate the report of the House of Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges, HC94, which upheld the complaints against the hon. Members for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price) and for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams)? I informed them last night by letter that I was going to raise this matter today.

Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. It is important that Members of this House keep in touch with constituents not only at election time, but all the time. The communication allowance is provided for that purpose. The Committee on Standards and Privileges rightly takes abuse of the allowance seriously, because it brings our honest use of it, and the reputation of the House, into disrepute.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Further to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill), surely the consultation exercise on the expansion of this country’s largest airport should begin with a statement in the House of Commons, as has happened with other Government consultation exercises. Is there any reason why the Secretary of State for Transport should not come to the House on Monday to make an oral statement?

Ms Harman: I shall draw that point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Early-day motions 241 to 244 inclusive and 247 to 255 inclusive salute the bravery of Britain’s military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, and record with sadness those who have been killed in those conflicts.

[ That this House salutes the bravery of the armed forces serving in Afghanistan and records with sorrow the deaths of Lance Corporal Jake Alderton of 36 Engineer Regiment, Major Alexis Roberts, 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, aged 32 from Kent, Colour Sergeant Phillip Newman, 4th Battalion The Mercian Regiment, aged 36, Private Brian Tunnicliffe, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Worcesters and Foresters), aged 33 from Ilkeston, Corporal Ivano Violino from 36 Engineer Regiment, aged 29 from Salford, Sergeant Craig Brelsford, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, aged 25 from Nottingham, Private Johan Botha, 2nd Battalion The
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Mercian Regiment from South Africa, Private Damian Wright, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, aged 23 from Mansfield, Private Ben Ford, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, aged 18 from Chesterfield, Senior Aircraftman Christopher Bridge from C flight, 51 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment, aged 20, from Sheffield, Private Aaron James McClure, 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, aged 19 from Ipswich, Private Robert Graham Foster, 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, aged 19 from Harlow, Private John Thrumble, 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, aged 21 from Chelmsford, Captain David Hicks of 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, aged 26 from Surrey, Private Tony Rawson of 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, aged 27 from Dagenham, Essex, Lance Corporal Michael Jones, Royal Marines aged 26 from Newbald, Yorkshire, Sergeant Barry Keen of 14 Signal Regiment, aged 34 from Gateshead and Guardsman David Atherton from the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, aged 25 from Manchester.]

May we have an early debate on the Daily Mirror campaign that seeks to provide a medal to all who are killed or seriously injured in military conflict on behalf of this country?

I also raise that issue because I would like the House to pass on our good wishes to the tabler of the early-day motions, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn). He was taken seriously ill in the Palace of Westminster a night or two ago. May we express to him our wish to see him restored to good health and back here very early so that the House can benefit from his characteristic bravery, persistence and independence, which underpin his tireless campaigning in this place?

Ms Harman: I endorse my hon. Friend’s comments. I wish my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) well and I hope that he makes a speedy return to this House. I join my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) in paying tribute to all our armed services who bravely put their lives on the line in Iraq and Afghanistan. As he will know—the Prime Minister has spoken about this in the House—the question of recognition and the awarding of medals falls to the armed services, and they make proposals to the Ministry of Defence. Any action will then be reported to this House.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): The Leader of the House referred to a question from last week. Will she let us know next week whether she can find a single example of a major consultation on something of the importance of Heathrow airport being announced by any previous Government without an oral statement being made to this House?

Ms Harman: I am keeping a count on this; I do not want to encourage any other hon. Members to raise the same point, but I recognise the strength of feeling in the House this morning and will take the matter up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. If any other hon. Member is thinking of raising this, they need not do so because I have got the point.

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Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, attended a meeting of the all-party human rights group and the all-party Zimbabwe group earlier this week to discuss the brutality, starvation and total lack of democracy in that country. As the previous Leader of the House, now Secretary of State for Justice, promised a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House on the subject, will the Leader of the House now provide time for that debate, perhaps as a topical debate, in the very near future?

Ms Harman: I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman and I recognise his tireless raising of the important issue of Zimbabwe. We had a debate in the summer, but matters have not improved since. I will take his suggestion for a topical debate, but he will know that the issue is high on the agenda of Foreign Office Ministers and of the Prime Minister as he attends the Commonwealth summit.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I will call the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) if he can assure me that he was in his place for the business statement.

Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): I was indeed, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the House will be aware, from Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform questions, of the widespread concern about the closure of post offices, not only in rural areas but in urban areas such as my constituency. The post offices in Francis street and Walnut street are a vital part of their communities and provide valuable services. May we have a debate in Government time on the value of post offices to rural and urban communities?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend will know that the future of post offices was raised this morning in Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform questions. I will take his suggestion as a proposal for a topical debate, and I will consider what we can do to ensure that the House has full discussions on the issue of post offices, which are—as he says—important not only to Members who represent rural constituencies but to those who represent urban areas.

Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): Will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster come to the House to make a statement? One of his responsibilities is the Central Sponsor for Information Assurance, which is a team in the Cabinet Office. When the Cabinet Office commissioned an expert report on information security in July, the conclusion was that

Will the Chancellor come to the House to tell us why he failed to act on the recommendations of that report?

Ms Harman: I am sure that on many future occasions, in statements, oral questions and topical debates, consideration will given to the issue of data security. As I have said, in response to the immediate issue of HMRC, the Government’s first concern must be to ensure that people are protected from potential damage. We must understand the facts and why the problem arose, and take action to avoid any repetition.

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Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): I am afraid that the Leader of the House has not convinced me that it is common practice for Ministers to fail to make an oral statement on consultations. Perhaps she can confirm that the Secretary of State for Transport has not come to the House because thousands of homes will be destroyed and villages wiped off the map as a result of the consultation. Can the Leader of the House confirm whether any Minister has failed to come to the House when launching such a consultation in the past few years?

Ms Harman: Perhaps the best approach is not only— [ Interruption. ] I do not seek to make excuses. The best approach is not always to look at how things have been done in the past—although it is important to be aware of that—but to identify the feelings and concerns of Members and whether they want an early opportunity to debate an issue. As I have said, I get the point on this issue.

Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): Will the Leader of the House reconsider her decision not to grant a topical debate on the loss of data by the Government? I suggest that little is more topical than the loss of the personal details of 25 million people, especially given the concern it has caused in our constituencies.

Ms Harman: I have invited all hon. Members to submit their proposals for topical debate subjects. I intend to announce the issue for debate on Monday evening so that hon. Members notice may make plans to attend and participate in the debate. The earlier I make the announcement, the less topical it is likely to be if some intervening issue arises. We will have to keep an eye on the issue and work out whether we should sacrifice giving notice to Members, and Ministers, in order to ensure hot topicality— [ Interruption. ] We will have to decide whether to have override arrangements so that the subject can be changed at the last minute. We want to ensure that the House has an opportunity to discuss topical issues. That is what the topical debate is for, and I intend to make it work as well as possible for the House.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): When will the House be asked to approve the £25 billion so far spent on Northern Rock and the £25 billion of contingent guarantees? Where did the Treasury and the Bank of England suddenly find £25 billion?

Ms Harman: The right hon. Gentleman will know that he can raise those issues at Treasury questions next Thursday. No doubt the Chancellor and his ministerial colleagues will remind him that we are concerned to ensure that no Northern Rock shareholder, employee or saver loses out. The Chancellor has made statements to the House on the issue and, if there is any further information to give, he will do so again.

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