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I am grateful for the announcement of a debate on police funding on 10 January. I join the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House in
extending my best wishes and thanks not just to the police, but to all Officers of the House and, of course, to you, Mr. Speaker, as we approach Christmas and the new year.
May we have a debate about the growing number of Government policy reviews? After the recent announcement by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families of four more such reviews, they are now up to 31. As Tony Travers said this week, evidence-based policy is a good thing, but it is necessary to have the policy and the policy making. It would be good to know how the Government are seeking to develop policy and whether Parliament is going to play a part in that.
I understand that the Government were intending to produce the results of their review of electoral systems across the UK, including those used in this years Scottish elections, by the end of the year, but that it has now been postponed. May we have a statement announcing the new timetable, as the Leader of the House must ensure that the review does not disappear into the long grass?
The Prime Minister is probably just about to set off to Lisbon to sign the European treaty. Presuming that he gets there and he signs it, when can we expect to start debates on the legislation to implement that treaty? We know that the debates will take a long time and we know that they will be on the Floor of the House, but it would be helpful for colleagues to know
Simon Hughes: Some colleagues, like the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), cannot wait! Many of us would like to know when that process is going to begin, as it will require a considerable time commitment.
As we approach Christmas, may we have an opportunity before the break to discuss when the Farepak victimsI know we had a written statement about it yesterdayare likely to receive any money that, following the companys collapse, they may get? After the Ministry of Justice report showing that conciliation is not working, may we have a debate on conflict resolution in families? Finally, may we have a debate on the important issue of conflict resolution policy in government, especially given that it looks like we may have to be further engaged around the world in Kosovo and elsewhere? The more we can do to prevent and resolve conflicts rather than fight over them, the better. Many of us would view that as not just seasonally appropriate, but the best option all year round.
The hon. Gentleman raised the question of the number of policy reviews. If the Government are concerned that policy needs to be changed, surely the whole House would agree that they should reflect openly, consult, gather evidence, announce what they are going to do and only then put proposals before the House. Hon. Members would have much more to complain about if we brought proposals for change before the House without announcing or undertaking any review. I know that the hon. Gentleman would welcome the
fact that we are following what has been described as the Bercow report and that we are now moving to the next stage of reviewing special educational needs, which is both welcome and important. I think that the hon. Gentleman would also welcome how we are reviewing the way in which child mental health services work with schools. I believe that there is nothing wrong with reviews and that it is right for us to announce the results of them to the House.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the electoral systems review and I agree with him that the House expected to hear the results shortly. A great deal of change has resulted from the introduction of different systems in Scotland, Wales and England for European elections, local elections, mayoral elections and so forth. All of that needs to be analysed and the results understood before they can be reported back to the House. I will convey the hon. Gentlemans points to the Secretary of State for Justice.
The hon. Gentleman asked about debates on the Bill to implement the European treaty. I can tell him and the House that as we become fully engaged with the European debates, we will find them plentiful and likely to take quite a long time. I believe that it is very important that as we scrutinise effectively the structural changes brought about by the treaty, we must not lose sight of what is most important to people in the country. They are less concerned about the minutiae of the structures and more concerned about how being a member of Europe contributes to our economy, to our work on climate change internationally and to how we tackle human trafficking. I hope that the House will sometimes be able to focus not just on the structures of Europe, but on what being in Europe means to people in this country.
The hon. Gentleman asked for debate and discussion on the important matter of Farepak. One of the reasons why I chose the subject for this afternoons topical debate was precisely in order to allow Farepak to be raised. There are concerns that people with the least money are most at risk when it comes to savings; those with the least money spend most when they are trying to save. That is why I chose the subject of the availability of financial services for low-income families for this afternoons topical debate. Farepak is not in the title, so I accept that it was not good enough as a signal to the hon. Gentleman, but I expect it to be discussed.
The hon. Gentleman asked about conflict resolution. He will know that the Foreign Secretary has made a number of statements about conflict resolutionfor example, on the Governments work in Kosovo and other parts of the world. If any further information or proposals should be brought before the House, I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will do exactly that.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): May we have a debate on local democracy and devolution? I ask that because of the growing scandal in Scotland, where the Scottish National party Government have been interfering in an unprecedented way in the local planning process in support of a development proposed by the Trump Organisation. Should not the First Minister be reminded that the point of devolution was to bring power closer to the people, not to have power devolved to Edinburgh, only to have it taken away from local government and centralised in Edinburgh?
Ms Harman: I will take up my hon. Friends point with the Secretary of State for Scotland. The whole point of having a Scottish Parliament was to devolve power from Westminster to people in Scotland, not to suck up power from local authorities in Scotland and place it in Edinburgh instead.
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Legal aid is currently being extended to bogus asylum seekers, foreign terrorists, imprisoned murderers who want to have children and Ministry of Defence officials attending inquests, so may we have a debate on why legal aid is not being extended to the wives and families of British servicemen who have lost their lives in the service of their country? Many people would want that disgraceful injustice to be aired in Parliament.
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman might remember that that point was put by one of his hon. Friends in Prime Ministers questions yesterday and that my right hon. Friend said that he would look further into it.
Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole) (Lab): Following this mornings announcement by the Post Office on various branch restructurings in my area, could my right hon. and learned Friend find time for the House to debate the Post Offices handling of the issue? The Westfield avenue branch in Goole was down for closure on the basis of incorrect public transport information, but that closure is to go ahead anyway. The plan for outreach services for the villages of Eastoft, Reedness, West Butterwick and Wroot is to go ahead, but we have not yet heard how or when. This morning, we suddenly find that the Wrawby post office, which was unaffected by the regional consultation, is now up for closure. There is no rhyme or reason to any of that, so will my right hon. and learned Friend please speak to the relevant Minister to ensure that Members are able to debate how the Post Office has acted in our constituencies?
Ms Harman: Post offices are a matter of concern to all hon. Members. It is topical at the moment because of the programme of consultation that the Post Office is engaging in, so I will take my hon. Friends comments as a proposal for a topical debate in January.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May I reinforce the request of my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House for a debate on police pay? We all recognise that the Government have allowed public spending to get out of control and that they have increased the public sector wage bill to an unsustainable extent. That said, the decision not to backdate is unjust, unwise and mean-spirited. Next week, the House needs to have the opportunity to say so.
I will not add to what I have already said about that, except to say that I remember when the right hon. and learned Gentleman was part of a Conservative Government. Since then, and since we have had a Labour Government, my constituents and his have had more police on their streets, and more police community support officersand those police officers are better paid than ever they were under a Conservative Government. The Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee today that he would love to pay the
police more, but that he must be certain that we have a growing economy with stable public financesand that is another thing that we did not have when the right hon. and learned Gentlemans party was in Government.
Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): Could my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a debate about residential care for the elderly, the provision of which is diminishing and becoming worryingly fragmented? In my constituency, Anchor housing associations decision to present its proposal to close St. Clements Court in south Kirkby as a fait accompli has caused real anxiety and consternation, as well as some anger. It has become clear that the supply of residential care for the elderly in the area is diminishing, and that the local authoritys role has been significantly weakened. All that is creating some trouble in the local community, and the local authority, as strategic provider, appears to lack the powers necessary for it to step in and fill the breach. May we have a debate about this important matter?
Ms Harman: It is indeed important, for the reasons that my hon. Friend has given. The number of elderly people is growing. We need to make absolutely sure that they have the care and support that they need, and that families caring for them have the backing that they require as well. As my hon. Friend knows, there will be many debates in the House on the Health and Social Care Bill. He will also know of the review dealing with the existing support for carers, including those caring for older people. However, we remain concerned not only about residential care of the elderly but about domiciliary services, and I will raise my hon. Friends points with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): During the 1980s, the Libyan Government brought hundreds of tons of guns and explosives into Northern Ireland to help the IRA. As a result, hundreds of people were killed, thousands were maimed, and businesses worth millions of pounds were destroyed. Many of the victims groups have been demanding that the Government seek compensation from the Libyan Government, just as compensation was sought for the victims of the destruction of the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie. This week the groups were informed that the Government did not intend to pursue the case. Will the Leader of the House find time to bring the Foreign Secretary along to make a statement explaining why victims of Libyan-sponsored terrorism in Northern Ireland are being treated differently from victims of the same state in Lockerbie?
Ms Harman: I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that I raise the issue with both the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Foreign Secretary. He could then receive a letter, which could be placed in the Library so that all other Members could also be informed about that important matter.
Ms Patricia Hewitt (Leicester, West) (Lab):
I strongly support what my right hon. and learned Friend said a few minutes ago about Britains membership of the European Union, but I want to raise a different subject. Could she find time for a debate on urban regeneration companies? The centre of my own city of Leicester is
being transformed through a combination of private and public sector investment, and similar transformations are taking place in cities across our country. I think it is time the House discussed that success and how we can build on it in future.
Ms Harman: My right hon. Friends words will find an echo among a number of Members. I think it would be good to examine the important work of urban regeneration companies across the piece, on the basis of experience in different constituencies. I will seek an opportunity for it to be debated in Government time, either here or in Westminster Hall.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The courageous and outspoken Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, cut up his clerical collar recently on the Andrew Marr Show and vowed not to wear it again until the tyrant Mugabe was removed from office in Zimbabwe. When will the Government find time for a debate on the subject on the Floor of the Houseand when will the Government of this country, which was responsible for putting Mr. Mugabe in power, take action to save the people of Zimbabwe from the tyrannical rule that they are currently experiencing?
Ms Harman: I know that the whole House shares the hon. Gentlemans concerna view that was expressed strongly during our recent debate in the House on the subject. He will know that the Government share it as well, that we are working closely with other countries internationally to put pressurein all respectson the Zimbabwean regime. We are working particularly closely with the African Union. We are very concerned indeed about the plight of the people in Zimbabwe, and want to support them while also tackling the terrible abuses of the Zimbabwean Government.
Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend is aware of reports in the media today that a convicted paedophile who viewed online child pornography has effectively had his sentence reduced from life to one year, although he had been viewing level 5 pornography, which involves material involving babies and bestiality. He is also the founder of an organisation that lobbies for sex with under-age children. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that viewing online child abuse is every bit as serious as production and distribution, and will she please make time, as a matter of urgency, for a debate in the House on sentencing for this very serious crime?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend will know of a recent review by the Sentencing Guidelines Council of sentencing for sexual offending. It is extremely important that new sexual offences are tackled effectively as they appear. My hon. Friend will, of course, be aware that although sentencing is a matter for the courts, the House sets the framework through legislation, and in a current Bill there are further measures to tackle the crime of child abuse via the internet.
Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con):
Will the Leader of the House make time, as a matter of urgency, for a debate on the audit function of local authorities, with particular reference to the situation in
the Greater London authority and the London Development Agency? Some £2.5 million of public money appears to have been given to organisations controlled by associates of the Mayors policy director, Lee Jasper, without adequate audit trails or, now, any proper account of where many hundreds of thousands of pounds of that money has gone.
Ms Harman: Of course the work of the Audit Commission is important. It is important that the work of all local authorities in London, the Greater London authority and the Mayor is properly auditedas it is.
I wish to complain about the hon. Gentleman tossing out allegations against Lee Jasper, who has done, and continues to do, a great deal of public work. I do not want to hear his name besmirched in the House for party political purposes, just because we are in the run-up to a mayoral election. I want to register my support for the work being done.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): May we have a debate on the 20 per cent. Government cut in funding for science research and its impact on science departments at universities, including the one in Liverpool? It follows the merger of two science research councils, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council and the Science and Technology Facilities Council. Surely a cut of 20 per cent. is not compatible with the Governments wish to support science.
Ms Harman: The Government are strongly committed to supporting science with investment in industry and also in educational institutions. I am not sure that the figures given by my hon. Friend accord with my understanding of the position. There has not been a cut of £80 million in spending on physics. One research councilthe Science and Technology Facilities Councilhas decided to reduce the amount of support available for particle physics and astronomy in universities, but is continuing to invest heavily in those disciplines in CERN and elsewhere. Our commitment to science has led to funding rising from £1.3 billion to £3.4 billion this year. I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills to take into account the points my hon. Friend raises, and to write to her to clarify the position.
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): May we have an urgent debate on the Thames Gateway? Following a recent very critical report by the Public Accounts Committee, which was devastating in its view of how the Government and various Departments have handled the issue over several years, the Department for Communities and Local Government has moved with remarkable speed and efficiency to sack not one of its Ministers, but the chief executive of the Thames Gateway, whom it appointed about 18 months ago, in what looks like a clear case of scapegoating. I would like the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to come to the House for a debate so that she can explain why someone else is carrying the can for the Governments failure.
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