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David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): Returning to the detention of terrorist suspects without charge, may we have a debate specifically about the separation of powers? The Home Secretary’s proposal appeared to
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involve votes by hon. Members effectively on whether individuals should be detained. Frankly, that is repugnant. It smacks of the institutions of the French revolution, such as the Committee of General Security. Is no constitutional principle safe in the Government’s hands?

Ms Harman: We want to ensure that people are physically safe from the threat of terrorism. That is what we want to make sure is safe in the Government’s hands. I share Liberal Democrats’ concerns about civil liberties and I want to be sure that proper safeguards exist. However, the absolute bottom line is that we must ensure that we have the right provisions so that people in this country are safe and so that, if terrorists are suspected and arrested, they are not allowed to slip through our hands and perpetrate a terrible crime. I hope that Liberal Democrat Members will join us in acknowledging that. We are all concerned about safeguards and ensuring that the Home Secretary, the judiciary and the House have the right role. All those matters will be discussed.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Could the Leader of the House take it into account that, whenever a request is made to debate MPs’ salaries, it always comes from the Tory side? Most Labour Members believe that you can’t starve on £60,000 a year. If the taxpayer’s money is to be spent wisely, let us use it for such things as free personal care for the elderly in nursing homes. That is much more important than the inflated MPs’ pay that the Tories always demand.

Ms Harman: I look forward to my hon. Friend’s contribution to the debate on the SSRB report when I can present it to the House.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Has the Leader of the House reflected further on choosing subjects for topical debate? It is now clear that the Standing Orders of the House do not place an obligation on her to make the choice. Would it not be fairer if the choice were made by Mr. Speaker or by ballot?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman will remember that the Modernisation Committee—[Hon. Members: “Just say no.”] I think I am probably saying no. The Modernisation Committee proposed that some Government time—we are not considering Opposition day debates—should be used to allow the Chamber to discuss issues of topical importance. The Committee suggested that that should be done through the usual channels, although the debates were to be an opportunity for Back Benchers. The Government gave their response and we passed Standing Order No. 24A, which simply provides that the topic will be chosen by the Leader of the House. I issued a written ministerial statement to outline my criteria for subjects for the debates. They are: the subject should be topical; the House has not had an opportunity to debate it; it is a matter of public policy; it is a matter of public concern, and it is of international, national or regional importance.

It is early days. We have had only three topical debates. We need to reflect on the matter in the new year in light of our experience of the debates, and ascertain whether we need to change the process and the Standing Orders.

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However, one of my concerns is that the topical debates are supposed to be Back-Bench debates but, because Front Benchers make so many interventions and have many interesting things to say, many Back-Bench colleagues have not been able to speak in the important debates. I therefore want to consider how we ensure that there is more time for Back Benchers in the topical debates.

Dan Norris (Wansdyke) (Lab): Norton Hill secondary school in my constituency, under the headship of Peter Beaven, has just had an Ofsted report. The school was deemed outstanding under each of the headings under which it was assessed. That is a highly unique status. However, although schools and pupils throughout the country have attained much better results under a Labour Government in the past 10 years, many pupils, especially those from more modest backgrounds who are in the first generation to go to university, still do not aspire to the very highest and most traditional universities. They avoid applying to, for example, Oxford or Cambridge. May we have an early debate on how to encourage those young people, who are now achieving terrific grades, to aspire to the very highest standards in our land?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I congratulate all those—the head, the teaching team, the parents and pupils—involved in Norton Hill secondary school and acknowledge my hon. Friend’s support for it. However, his comments reflect the revolution in our expectations of the number of young people whom we want to go into further and higher education. The Tories were happy for only a few young people to go on to further and higher education. We believe two things: first, parents want the best for their children; secondly, in a globalised market, our economy needs the children to be the best, so higher education is essential.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. Eleven hon. Members are standing. I want to take you all, so let us have one brief supplementary from each hon. Member.

Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con) rose—

Mr. Speaker: You are in the queue; do not worry about it.

Mrs. James: Cyberbullying is of major concern to many people. Several constituents have approached me, expressing anxiety about incidents of happy slapping, which have been uploaded on to the internet. Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider a debate on cyberbullying?

Ms Harman: I will; and I will also suggest that it would be good for my hon. Friend to contribute to the new guidance on bullying that will be sent to education authorities and all schools, on which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families is currently consulting.

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Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Should not the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions make a statement next week about the future of Mr. Paul Myners, the chairman of the personal accounts delivery authority, in the light of his controversial remarks on last week’s “Question Time” and, as importantly, the fact that, as we have now learned, he made substantial contributions to the Prime Minister’s leadership election campaign, even though we were told at the time of his appointment that he had made no political donations whatever?

Ms Harman: I watched the programme to which the right hon. Gentleman refers and I could not see anything controversial about Paul Myners’s remarks. He said that we had an exceptionally strong economy with steady growth, which was down to the expert management of the Chancellor at the time, who has now turned into a first-rate Prime Minister. I could not see anything about that to disagree with.

Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): May we have a debate on whether people should have to opt out of kidney transplantation, rather than opt in to it? My constituent, Mark Schofield, recently travelled to the Philippines in an attempt to buy a kidney for £40,000, when the one donated by his mother Jean failed. We are now at the stage where 380 people in Wales are waiting for kidney transplants. Could we consider moving the situation forward, to an opt-out rather than an opt-in?

Ms Harman: I will draw my hon. Friend’s comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. We all know that transplantation of a donated organ can transform the life of the recipient. We also all know that many people suffer while they are waiting for a transplant or even die before it becomes available. We know, too, that relatives of many people who would be happy to donate their organs often do not receive a request on their behalf. I will bring that matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): Tuesday morning will be the second anniversary of the Buncefield disaster, which destroyed many parts of my constituency. Sadly, two years on, we have had just one statement, on the Monday immediately after, but not one written or oral statement to the House. We have had planning blight; an inquiry is being held behind closed doors; the water table is contaminated; and now disfigured animals are being born, which the Government’s chief scientist has been informed of. Can we have the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs come here to tell us what is going on in my community and what is going to happen at Buncefield?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman has raised the issue previously. It is an important issue for his constituency, but it also raises national concerns. I take the points that he has made and will raise them with the relevant Ministers. I will write to him and place a copy of the letter in the Library, and hopefully we will see further action on that.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Notwithstanding our Government’s generally good record on animal policy, there is growing public
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concern that unfinished business remains in areas such as animal husbandry and animals in the laboratory. It is for those reasons that a number of us tabled early-day motion 480 yesterday, on a cross-party basis, which calls for an animal protection commission to drive forward improvements in that area.

[That this House notes the growing body of scientific evidence showing animals to have complex mental and emotional lives; considers all vertebrates and possibly some invertebrates to be conscious, feeling beings with an interest in living, avoiding suffering and experiencing pleasure; acknowledges that each animal has inherent value and is worthy of serious moral consideration; considers respect for animals to be indicative of the level of civilisation; is concerned that policy-making is led by industries tha t inevitably compromise animals’ welfare and interests, and thus the most essential interests of animals and the public's concern for their protection are given insufficient considerati on; endorses the Prime Minister’ s call for constitutional reform that entrusts more power to Pa rliament and the British people’ ; notes that there is no Government body whose primary purpose is to protect the interests of animals in policy-making; and calls upon the Government to establish an Animal Protection Commission or similar body, answerable to Parliament via a Minister, with a remit which includes the ongoing examination of the ethical status and rights of animals and how they are affected by policy-making, the facilitation of genuine public participation throughout policy processes which affect animals, and the development of a cross-Government agenda for animal protection.]

Could the Leader of the House take this as a submission for a debate on that early-day motion?

Ms Harman: We recently had legislation on animal health, and I know that there is concern throughout the House. While we continue to have farming and the opportunity for experimentation on animals for necessary medical research, there is always a concern about animal safety. I will bring my hon. Friend’s point to the attention of my right hon. Friends the relevant Ministers.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): One year on from the horrific murders in Ipswich, can we have a debate on what the Government are doing to improve the safety of vulnerable prostitute women?

Ms Harman: I will take that as a suggestion for a topical debate. Ministers across Government are concerned to ensure that women are not vulnerable. Many of the women involved in prostitution are brought here from abroad, and we have raised the issue of human trafficking in the European Council. Also, many of the women on the streets suffer from alcohol or drug abuse and mental health problems. I shall bring the issue to the attention of my hon. Friends, and perhaps the hon. Lady could raise it in a Westminster Hall debate.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): Can we have a debate on the recent decision by the Law Lords to deny compensation to victims of asbestos-related disease? My right hon. and learned Friend may be aware that the Scottish Parliament has committed itself to overturning that decision. I sincerely hope that it is genuine in its endeavours. Will my right
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hon. and learned Friend assure the House that if the Scottish Parliament is successful, the same effort and commitment will be applied throughout the UK for victims of asbestos-related diseases?

Ms Harman: I agree with my hon. Friend’s point, particularly on the effect of the recent House of Lords judgment on pleural plaques, which is being studied. We want to do everything that we can not only to prevent people from suffering from industrial disease, but to compensate and support those who have tragically had their lives ruined simply by working in unhealthy workplaces.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): When we next consider party funding in this place, will the Leader of the House give consideration to the propriety or otherwise of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s appearance this week at a Labour fundraising event hosted by Deutsche bank, which is a party to the consortium hoping to take over Northern Rock? Does she think that there is a possible conflict of interest in that issue?

Ms Harman: I am sure that there is no conflict of interest. The appearance that I would like to see is that of the Conservative party at the all-party talks.

Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): May we have a debate on the provision of post offices here in the Palace of Westminster? Why do pensioners in the villages of Sandsend, Ruswarp and Fyling Thorpe in my constituency have to travel more than 3 miles to a post office, whereas other pensioners such as the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) have the benefit of three post offices within 100 yd?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue, which is a concern throughout the House. He will know that up to 2009 there will be £1.7 billion-worth of extra investment in post offices. This is a time of big change in post offices. They are important to local communities, and there was a debate in Westminster Hall either last week or earlier this week, so the issue is constantly debated in the House.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Further to the highly pertinent inquiry from my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), may I ask the right hon. and learned Lady why the long-awaited and much delayed report by the Senior Salaries Review Body cannot be published and debated next week? Given that the matter has been raised several times with her, not least on 5 and 26 July, on 11, 18 and 25 October and on 8 and 15 November, by right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House, including the right hon. Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar), would she concede that it is high time we discuss the matter, that it would be intolerable to slip out the report quietly with Government recommendations during the Christmas recess and that she would of course contemplate doing no such thing?

Ms Harman: I would contemplate doing no such thing; the hon. Gentleman can be assured that there will be no slipping out of the report over the Christmas recess. I know that the House is eager to see the proposals and to debate and vote on them, and there will be an opportunity for that in the new year.

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Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the recent local government finance settlement, so that we could discuss two things in particular? One is the severe—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Perhaps I am mistaken, but if the hon. Gentleman is referring to the local government finance settlement, that is the next statement coming up. We have a Minister coming to discuss that matter, and the hon. Gentleman might catch the Deputy Speaker’s eye at that stage. However, perhaps he is talking about something else.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. We are indeed about to get a local government settlement. Can the Leader of the House make special representations in that settlement, so that we secure one that represents all the unfunded items that the Government keep loading on local authorities, which in turn will increase the council tax, which will have a severe impact on some of the poorest in our society? Perhaps the Minister for Local Government, who is standing beside you, Mr. Speaker, will take that into account.

Mr. Speaker: The appropriate Minister will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): The Leader of the House will know that there has been confusion about the arrangements for the Government Equalities Office. She will also know that I wrote to the Prime Minister about this matter. On 8 November, the Prime Minister replied to say that he would arrange for the Leader of the House to reply to me directly. I know that the right hon. and learned Lady takes the issue of
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timely correspondence very seriously, but I have yet to have a reply from her. Might she be able to indulge me with a reply before Christmas?

Ms Harman: The answer to that is yes. I have received the hon. Gentleman’s correspondence, and he will get a reply this afternoon. In regard to the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), I wonder whether he was practising his question before putting it to the relevant Minister.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Mrs. Carter, a lovely lady in my constituency, suffers from spinal stenosis and is in a lot of pain, if not agony, most of the time. She normally goes to Northampton general hospital four times a year for treatment to alleviate the pain. The last time she went was in June, but she has now been told that she cannot go again until the middle of January, although she is suffering in agony. The reason for the change is apparently so that the hospital can see new patients first. With apologies to Mark Twain, would it be possible to have a debate in Government time entitled “ Lies, damned lies and NHS statistics”?

Ms Harman: Obviously, it is important that all hospitals and health services have the right processes and give the right priority to patients. The hon. Gentleman has raised a point that should be the subject not of a debate in the House but of a complaint to the relevant trust or local primary care trust. It is a matter for them, rather than for the House. I know that the hon. Gentleman regularly raises questions on the health treatment of his constituents, and I therefore hope that he will strongly back the extra investment that we have put into the health service in his area over the past 10 years.

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