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we seek...an all-party consensus on...new provisions for pre-charge detention[ Official Report, 25 July 2007; Vol. 463, c. 843.]
that is, the 28-day issue. Yet without any consensus, the Home Secretary has leaked her plans to the media and released a paragraph-long excuse for a written statement. Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty says:
It seems more like politics than policy-making.
Why has the Home Secretary not come to the House to make a proper oral statement so that Members can question her on her policy? Every week, the Leader of the House tells us that she puts Parliament first; every week her colleagues treat Parliament with disdain.
The European Parliament has ruled that the United Kingdom is entitled to one more MEP. On the numbers, that seat should go to the west midlands, but it is rumoured that the Prime Minister wants to give it to Scotland for party political reasons. Can the Leader of
the House confirm that the decision concerning which region gets the extra seat is based on fair representation, not party political calculation?
Dave Hartnett, the acting chairman of Her Majestys Revenue and Customs, yesterday accepted that the recent data breaches
indicate a wide systematic failure.
There have been seven HMRC security breaches of some significance in the last two and a half years, but the Chancellor and the Prime Minister continue to hide behind their claim that there is no systematic failure. Why will they not take responsibility and get a grip? Will the Chancellor come back to the House to make a new statement in light of this new information?
While Labour politicians debate ditching the national anthem and changing the Union flag, the Prime Minister is about to break his manifesto promise and sign us up to the renamed European constitution, without a referendum. May I add my support to the European Scrutiny Committee, which is chaired by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), a Labour Member? The Committee says that
the matters raised should be debated on the Floor of the House before the Treaty is signed...we therefore hold the document under scrutiny.
May we have a debate, in Government time, specifically on the treaty? Last week, the right hon. and learned Lady said that she wants to
reform and improve European scrutiny.[ Official Report, 29 November 2007; Vol. 468, c. 444.]
Finally, it was reported this morning that Labour officials helped David Abrahams draw up covenants to hide his donations. Since the right hon. and learned Ladys performance last week, we have found out that she failed to declare a £40,000 loan to the Electoral Commission. However, she told the House that she
acted at all times within both the letter and the spirit of the law.[Official Report, 29 November 2007; Vol. 468, c. 435.]
I ask her again: when will she come to the House to make a full statement about her conduct and the lawbreaking in the Labour party?
Ms Harman: The right hon. Lady raised the question of the housing market. She will know that we are concerned that there should be more affordable housing to rent and buy. That is why we have introduced a Bill on housing that will increase the supply of housing for families who need it. I look forward to her supporting that Bill, and to all hon. Members ensuring that their housing supply can be improved in their local authorities. She also mentioned interest rates. She knows that under this Government interest rates have been kept low and stable, whereas under her Government they rose to 15 per cent. and people lost their homes because of negative equity.
The right hon. Lady raised the question of the written ministerial statement that the Home Secretary issued to the House this morning, and the letter that she sent to the Home Affairs Committee. She knows that the Governments position remains that we are concerned to ensure the security of people in this country. That is absolutely essential. We are also concerned to ensure civil liberties and appropriate safeguards for everybody
in this country. We are seeking an all-party consensus and we are having talks in order to reach agreement so that we can protect safety and ensure civil liberties.
When the hon. Lady raises this question[Hon. Members: Right hon. Lady.] I am sorry. When the right hon. Lady raises the question, it strikes me that whatever we propose and whatever this House legislates about, defendants and subjects have the protection of the Human Rights Act; but if the Conservative party were in government, they would abolish it. The House awaits the Select Committees report.
The right hon. Lady mentioned a number of issues about the European Parliament and European affairs. My hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House is having discussions on how we can do what we all agree we need to do: improve the scrutiny of European affairs. Indeed, the right hon. Lady has put forward 10 suggestions to that effect, and my hon. Friend has said that she has considered them and they are not all mad. [ Laughter. ]
Chris Bryant: But some of them are.
Ms Harman: Some of them are useful contributions to the debate, and I thank her for that.
The right hon. Lady also mentioned party funding. I answered questions about that at business questions last week, the House considered it during an Opposition day debate on Tuesday, the Prime Minister answered questions about it on Wednesday and the House had a further opportunity to discuss it during a debate on standards in public life yesterday. We have had a great deal of discussion in this House, but we are yet to see the Tories returning to all-party talks, and I hope that they will do so now.
Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): May we have a debate in this House on the report from Energywatch that shows that people who use prepayment meters spend on average £195 a year more than those who pay by direct debit? That is an attack on poor people.
Ms Harman: I will take that as a suggestion for a topical debate.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): It is not topical.
Ms Harman: It is topical; people cannot afford their heating when it gets colder. I will take that as a suggestion for a topical debate, and I thank my hon. Friend for making it.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I start by returning to the issue of detention without charge. Given the huge importance of the issue, and the clear opposition of Liberal Democrats, the Conservative party, many Members in the Labour party and other parties, the previous Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith, the Director of Public Prosecutions and Lord West, the Minister responsible for securityuntil he was sat onwill the Leader of the House insist that the Home Secretary comes to the House on Monday to make the oral statement that this issue merits? A written statement attached to documents in the Library that are complex as well as controversial is not an appropriate way for the Leader of the House to honour her obligation to the House; she said that Ministers would report to the House first and answer questions. She must insist that the Home Secretary does so.
On a linked civil liberties issue, when will we have a debate on identity cards? Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, said yesterday in front of the Justice Committee:
Keeping this massive database with records of every time the card is swiped through a terminal is distinctly unattractive and would increase the risks.
Surely the subject of identity cards, and the nonsensical Government policy of pursuing them, is appropriate for a Government debate or a topical one between now and the end of term.
Given that the Information Commissioner also told the Justice Committee that, in the wake of the loss of 25 million names of benefit recipients and their families,
It is important that the law is changed to make security breaches of this magnitude a criminal offence,
may we have a debate on the legal implications of the use and misuse of information? In particular, can the Leader of the House and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions explain whether the same principles apply to Ministers for revealing information about funds as apply to the tens of thousands of people who are prosecuted by the Department for Work and Pensions for not declaring sums that they have received and who are convicted in the courts up and down the land?
Lastly, may we have a debate soonand then annuallyon the relative position of Britain among the 30 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries? We recently came bottom in the league table of childhood happiness. We have been reported as dropping from seventh to 17th in our reading ability and from eighth to 24th in our maths ability. With 148 out of every 100,000 people in prison, we have the highest number of people in prison in the whole of western Europe. Why is it that on so many different occasions and different subjects Britain is now gaining the reputation of being one of the failing states of western Europe?
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman mentioned the question of the Home Secretarys giving information about a further proposal for consideration to deal with extended detention. If I think that information that should have been announced first to the House has been announced on Today and has then been the subject of an oral statement, or if major policy has been announced without reference to the House, I will not accept that situation. That is my commitment. However, on this occasion I do not think that it would have been right for me to say to the Home Secretary, Come to the House and make an oral statement. No hon. Member tabled an urgent question, so clearly no one else in the House thought that there should be an oral statement. She has produced a written memorandum to the Select Committee and a written ministerial statement. The Home Secretary is very forthcoming to the House on these issues. She is a respecter of the House. She is not a spinner. She answers questions, and therefore I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman that she has not respected the House and that I, as Leader of the House, should suggest that she come here. I simply do not accept that.
The hon. Gentleman also talked about identity cards and asked for them to be chosen as a topic for debate. His party has just chosen two topics for debate next
week. Neither is identity cards: one is Northern Rock while the other is the military. Yesterday, there was a debate on identity in Westminster Hall
Simon Hughes: It was one of ours.
Ms Harman: Indeed it was. The House has opportunities to discuss that important issue.
The hon. Gentleman then launched off on to our being a failing state for children. My constituency is in the same borough as his, and is its neighbour. He will know, as all hon. Members do, of the huge change that there has been in the investment in childrens education. He will know that every secondary school and primary school has had capital investment. He will know that there are 40,000 extra teachers and 100,000 extra teaching assistants. He will know that there are more nursery places for children and that more young people go into further and higher education. He will know that we are moving on to increase the education leaving age from 16 to 18. I do not know on which planet he is living when he says that there is a failing state for children. The Government have made children and education a priority and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman listens to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families when he sets out the children plan in the House next week.
Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend and the Prime Minister on the announcement that was made earlier today about a badge for land army girls. That is something that I have felt very passionate about. After the Bevin boys were rewarded, it was only right that the women who worked so hard during the war to keep the home fires burning and everybody fed should be honoured in the same way.
Ms Harman: The whole House should recognise and pay tribute to the efforts of my hon. Friend, without whom that would not have happened. It was right that she brought the subject to the attention of the House and relevant Ministers and that she insisted and argued cogently that the efforts of the members of the Womens Land Army should be recognised, just as those of the Bevin boys have been. Justice has been done because of her efforts, and I want to thank her.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): When does the Leader of the House intend to come to the House to make public the recommendations of the Senior Salaries Review Body? The Government have had the report for more than six months. Members payI am concerned about hon. Members in all partiesis falling further and further behind. Is it not time that the Government came to the House, presented the report and allowed the House to debate the recommendations?
Ms Harman: It is St. Nicholass day today, so I was expecting the hon. Gentleman to get to his feet. We will bring forward the debate for discussion, but I cannot say that it will be debated before Christmas.
Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): May we have a debate on the plight of the Palestinians, particularly regarding the new middle east peace initiatives?
Ms Harman: I know that that is a priority for the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister. I shall take that as a suggestion for a topical debate; the whole House is concerned about it.
Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): Will the Leader of the House find time at an early date for a debate on an issue that those directly concerned find the most important of all, namely the availability of the drug Alimta for the treatment of mesothelioma? Is the Leader of the House aware that the drug has been approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence and is available through some primary care trusts, but not through others who have taken legal action to prevent the requirement that they should use it? Does she agree that the debate might allow opinion from both sides of the House to bring pressure to bear so that the intolerable situation can be drawn to a conclusion?
Ms Harman: I will bring the question that the hon. Gentleman has raised to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. There will be Health questions before Christmas, so I shall give my right hon. Friend notice and perhaps the hon. Gentleman can seek to raise that point then.
Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): Further to the helpful answer that my right hon. and learned Friend gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) about the potential for a topical debate on the differential between the charge for those who pay for gas and electricity by direct debit and the higher charge for those who pay by other means, which is effectively a tax on the poor, will she add to that debate the need for the same consideration of telephone charges? Those who do not pay by direct debit can be charged up to £15 more. In the modern world, although the situation is not exactly the same as that for gas and electricity, the telephone is now a vital service for many people, particularly the elderly alone in their homes.
Ms Harman: I will take the suggestion for a topical debate. On the question of the higher charges that are paid by those who can least afford them, in order both to stay in touch by using the telephone with standing charges and to buy fuel, my hon. Friend will be aware that we have done a great deal to lift the income of pensioners and families with children. We know that that is still an issue, and I shall bring it forward as a suggestion for consideration for a topical debate.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): May we have an early statement from the Home Secretary about her intention to renege on honouring the police pay settlement in full? In it perhaps she could congratulate the Scottish Government, who have made clear their intention to honour the commitment in full and pay the Scottish Police force what they are entitled to. Does that not contrast the difference between the two Governments and suggest why the Scottish National party is 11 points ahead of Labour in Scotland?
I think the House will know that since the Government came into office there are more police than there were before and that they are better paidand
rightly so. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Home Secretary issued a written ministerial statement on police pay this morning.
Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): Following on from the question that the hon. Member for Gosport (Peter Viggers) asked about Alimta, I am honoured to have been made patron of the East London Mesothelioma Society. I am proud of that. May we have a topical debate on the cancer reform strategy? We have not yet debated it.
Ms Harman: That is a good suggestion for a topical debate. Our cancer plan has meant that mortality rates from cancer have fallen by 17 per cent. However, we all agree that we can do more, through not only treatment and caring for those who have cancer but early detection. The cancer reform plan is determined to do that. I therefore agree that it would be useful to have a debate on it in the House.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): The Leader of the House has vital functions in defending Parliament on behalf of Parliament as whole. Does she accept that the European Scrutiny Committee report on the reform treaty is highly critical of the Government? Does she also accept that, as the Chairman of the Committee said last week, the report warrants discussion on a substantive motion on the Floor of the House before the treaty is signed, that the Government are not offering that and that the Leader of the House is therefore in derogation of her duties, which is a disgrace?
Ms Harman: There will be a debate before the treaty is signed and a statement afterwards. The hon. Gentleman knows that we will spend many days on the Floor of the House debating the matterwe have set that out in our legislative programme.
I look forward to concluding the institutional changes that are necessary as a result of enlargement. It is important to revert to and stay focused on the agenda of the contribution that our membership of the European Union can make to our economy and our efforts to tackle climate change and transnational crime. I know that many hon. Members want to spend a huge amount of time discussing the structuresI acknowledge that structures are importantbut many more people want to discuss the way in which we, as EU members, can improve matters for people in this country and Europe as a whole.
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): May I ask the Leader of the House to go further on the debate on the European Union on Tuesday? It will be the last time that the House has a chance to discuss issues before the Prime Minister is expected to sign the treaty of Lisbon. Will she ensure that an up-to-date version of the text of the treaty is available to hon. Members on Tuesday because that is the last chance to debate it?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes a good point, which I will bring to the Foreign Secretarys attention.
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