Once again, the right hon. Lady made accusations and asserted that Ministers were making policy statements to the media that were rightly for this House. She gave a number of examples. I look into every single example, and I take the matter very seriously. I agree that it is important that Ministers are answerable to this House rather than the media. One example that she cited was
the announcement today by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary about deactivated firearms. I looked into that matter before I came to the House today because there are always judgments to be made in such situations, and I wanted to know what the background to this one was and why the announcement was not the subject of an oral statement to the House.
The issue in question is an intention that will be subject to consultation. It is a detailed and complex area, about which there will be consultation, and my right hon. Friend will come to the House with any proposals before we are asked to consider them in legislation. We have a business statement today and an important debate later on Army personnel; we also have a topical debate today, and we have had an important debate on energy. The question is whether it would have been right for her to come to the House to make a statement about the launch of a consultation about deactivated firearms. As far as I am concerned, she made a sensible judgment, which I am quite happy to defend to the House. I do not agree that we are not putting Parliament first.
The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) talked about hospital-acquired infection. We are on target to progress with our deep cleans, and we do not think that they are a waste of time, as she alleged.
The right hon. Lady also talked about migration. I remind her that we discuss that matter often in the House, and one of the key issues to keep under consideration is the Governments migration impact forum.
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): May I bring the Leader of the House back to MPs pay? When I was first in the House, we worked ourselves up into a great state about our pay. The Government, led by Mrs. Thatcher, made it plain that what we wanted was against the level of settlement that they wished us to award ourselves. We passed our resolution, we incurred the displeasure of our constituents, and Mrs. T brought forward an order that fitted her wages policy. Before we debate our resolution on MPs pay, may I ask the Leader of the House whether the same procedure, in which we pass a resolution that cannot become effective until the Government place an order for us to vote on, will operate? Before we voteand perhaps make fools of ourselveswill she tell us whether the Government will bring forward only an order that fits their wages policy for the public sector?
My right hon. Friend is right. The process, under the current procedures of this House, of setting, debating and voting on our pay, pensions and allowances is as he described it, based on his memories. That is why many Members say that they find it unacceptable, and we know that the public do not accept that MPs should decide their own pay and pensions by voting. Therefore, we intend to review the procedures for setting MPs pay and pensions in the
future, with a view to examining options that find objective criteria for pay determination within a framework that does not require Members to vote.
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Clearly, many Members are hoping to raise questions on this statement. May I ask that there be a single supplementary question put briefly to the Minister and a short response.
We had an energy statement, which was important; it may or may not have been welcome. Following the questions put to the Prime Minister yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg), our new party leader, and my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Steve Webb), our new energy spokesman, on fuel costs and fuel poverty, will the Leader of House provide time in the near future for a debate on the effects of rising international fuel costs on people in this country and their fuel bills? Throughout the country, many people are finding the increased costs a difficult burden, and we would all benefit from a discussion about where we are, and where we can go to reduce the gap between rich and poor.
We have just had the end of the consultation period on the Governments proposed local government settlement for the next three years. The right hon. and learned Lady will know, from our constituencies, that there is much unhappiness among all parties about the proposed tight settlement, and in relation to all councils and types of councils in England. Before we have the big bang debate later this month where we vote on whether we accept the settlement, could she find time for a debate that gives colleagues the chance to explore the impact of the proposals of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government for their type of council?
On Members pay, pensions and allowances, may I help the right hon. and learned Lady by suggesting that, next Wednesday, when the Government propose to publish the report from the independent body, she comes to the House after Prime Ministers questions and makes a statement, which we can explore, on the Governments position, so that the House is well informed in the week before we debate the issues? That is sensible and will facilitate the most managed method of dealing with the amendments that will inevitably be tabled.
The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) made an early bid for a Welsh debate around St. Davids day. We have had a terrible time in parts of the CommonwealthPakistan and Kenyaover Christmas and the new year. Commonwealth day is 10 March. May we have an annual Commonwealth day debate so that those of us who believe that the Commonwealth should and can be effective can try to persuade the Government to use their influence to ensure that democracy is supported more effectively throughout the Commonwealth?
Lastly, following the big issue of yesterday, the Leader of the House has been helpful. We had a seven-and-a-half-hour Report stage on the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. More than four fifths of that timemore than six hourswas spent on Government new clauses, new schedules and amendments. There were 120 of them, all on matters that should not take time away from Government Back Benchers and Opposition Members. There were nine debates to be had on issues as important as blasphemy, prostitution, sex offences, pornography and personal data; yet we had only one out of nine. May I suggest that, in future, we negotiate the time for Report stage, which is the time for Back-Bench and Opposition contributions, and that if the Government want to do their own thing, they do it in extra time that they add to the agreed time? Only by doing that can we avoid the nonsense of the House of Commons considering one of the major Bills of the year but debating only what the Government wish to discuss, as happened yesterday.
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman reinforced the points about the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. He expressed what is largely a shared view. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) had already raised the points with me, so I was well aware of the concerns. In the interests of brevity, I shall not add to my comments in response to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead, but we take the point, which was well made.
On the energy statement and fuel costs, fuel poverty and fuel costs were raised many times in the topical debate before Christmas on people living on low incomes. However, the subject could be considered for a further topical debate and I am sure that it will be discussed on Second Reading of the Energy Bill next week.
There are obviously further proposals to make on the local government settlement, but Communities and Local Government questions will take place on 15 January, which is next week. The hon. Gentleman is right that it has been a tight settlement. We must be careful with the public finances, but there has been a real-terms increase, which has been important year on year in areas such as my constituency and his in the London borough of Southwark. There has been a real-terms increase, despite the growing demand and the fact that we would all like more.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether, when we publish the SSRB report on 16 January, which is next Wednesday, and the written ministerial statement which sets out our position, and table our resolutions, we should make an oral statement. We are trying to make the written ministerial statement, which will be the Governments response to the SSRB report on MPs pay, as full and as explanatory as possible so that we not only table the resolutions and enable hon. Members to examine them straight away and consider their amendments, but ensure that they have the Governments argument, set out as fully as possible, in an inevitably lengthy written ministerial statement. That will give hon. Members quite enough material to work out whetherand if so, howthey want to amend the resolutions. They will have more than a full week before the debate on 24 January. A written but full ministerial statement is the right approach.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned St. Davids day, which is not for two months. The debate does not always take place on the day, but we always have a debate for Wales within 12 calendar months. He mentioned Commonwealth affairs. The Foreign Secretary recently made a statement to the House on Pakistan and Kenya. I will bear the hon. Gentlemans point in mind, bring it to the attention of the Foreign Secretary and ask my right hon. Friend to come to the House if there are further points that he needs to make about the Commonwealth.
Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Would it be possible to have a debate next week on the total lack of democratic accountability of the housing trusts that took over our council housing following various stock transfers? I have realised in the past few days that they are outside the remit of the freedom of information legislation, which makes matters even worse.
Ms Harman: I am well aware of my hon. Friends point and I know she wants to ensure that her constituents have not only high quality housing but some measure of redress if that is not the case, and that there is proper accountability. The Government are considering that important issue and we hope that there will be an opportunity in the next Session to introduce a housing Bill, which deals not with the supply sidethe subject of the current measurebut issues such as the rights of tenants. I know that my hon. Friend will play a major part in contributing to policy development on the matter.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Further to the questions about next Wednesdays business, what conceivable reason can there be for the Governments not placing in the Library today a copy of the SSRB report, which they have had since July, about which the Leader of the House sought to make a statement today, and which is widely available in the media?
Ms Harman: The SSRB report is not yet printed. [Hon. Members: July!] We need to be sure that the leaders of Opposition parties have sufficient time to read the report before its publication. [Interruption.] Just bear with me.
Ms Harman: We need to be sure that leaders of Opposition parties have enough time to consider the report so that they can make their responses to the Government before we publish our response. [Hon. Members: Why?] It is also crucial that Back Benchers have sufficient time to examine the resolutions, consider the amendments that they might want to make and consider the full report.
Ms Harman: The right hon. Lady claims from a sedentary position that leaders of the Opposition have not had a copy of the report. That concerns me. [Interruption.] Let me just say that a copy of the report was given to her party leader on Monday.
Ms Harman: I am reassured that the leader of the Liberal Democrats has received his copy. That leads me to believe that the Leader of the Opposition has not told the shadow Leader of the House that he has got a copy or what is in it.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): How have we once again got ourselves into a position whereby we are invited to vote on our remuneration, given that we have been assured on several occasions during the 20 or so years that I have been in this place that it would not happen again? If we are to set up a review, can we ensure that it does not include too many complex criteria? Surely the solution is to link our remuneration to the fortunes of preferably the humblest of our constituents and leave it that way for eternity.
Ms Harman: If we had acted on my hon. Friends suggestion a number of years ago, we would not be in the position that we are in now. He tabled a motion that we should not set our own pay and that it should be indexed. I have announced to the House that we are now acting in the spirit of his proposals, albeit some years on.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Further to the earlier exchanges on the subject, can we please have a debate on the Floor of the House next week on the Governments approach to the programming of the Report stage of each and every Bill, in the course of which it would be possible, among other ideas, to consider the merits of the imposition of time limits on Back-Bench speeches?
Ms Harman: I think that this issue needs further consideration, not just in the debate about programme motions, but by taking it in the round and looking ahead. That involves both consultation with the usual channels and the business managers reflecting on it. I very much take the hon. Gentlemans point.
Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of this mornings report about British troops serving in Afghanistan being given blood supplied by the Americans that had not been properly screened? Those troops are now going through the horror of waiting to see whether they have HIV, hepatitis B or other sexually transmitted diseases. Given that our fine soldiers are out there doing what they are doing, they should not be subjected to that. Can we have a statement as soon as possible?
Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. She is right to want to ensure that our troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq receive the highest possible standard of medical support and health care. The issue that she raises is one that she or other hon. Members might have the opportunity to raise in this afternoons debate on armed services personnel.
Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con):
Can the Leader of the House make time for an urgent debate on the Select Committee on Health report that was
published today? The report highlights the vital job that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence does in difficult circumstances, but identifies problems that need to be resolved. I am concerned in particular about the problem that some primary care trusts have in implementing NICE guidelines on IVF treatment. Can she arrange for a debate in Government time?
Ms Harman: The Government are of course considering their position on the Health Committees important report. We, too, share its view of the good work that NICE does. If the hon. Lady wants to make points about the report in advance of the Governments response, she will have an opportunity to do so in another of the much-maligned topical debates, which will take place in a few minutes.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Yesterday, without any discussion on the Floor of the House, we sent a Bill down to the other place that contained clause 105, which will result in the jailing of quite a number of women engaged in prostitution and criminalise thousands of them if it is eventually enacted. I found that lack of discussion terribly frustrating. There was also an important amendment on, effectively, zero tolerance that needed discussing.
Ministers have gone to Sweden and Amsterdam today to study prostitution and, yesterday, the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) announced that there would be a Bill in the fourth Session of this Parliament on prostitution. May I therefore suggest two alternatives to my right hon. and learned Friend? We could either have a topical debate next week on prostitution, so that we can give guidance to the other place on the feelings of elected Members of this House, or we could take those clauses out of the Bill entirely and include them in the Bill to be introduced in the fourth Session of Parliament.
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important and constructive point, which I shall certainly reflect on. As he said, the Home Secretary has announced a six-month review period on the law relating to prostitution. As my hon. Friend also said, the issue will be debated in the other place, and I will also look at whether there will be an opportunity for a topical debate to consider it.
Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): Will there be time for a debate on disabled peoples access to public transport? In particular, perhaps the relevant Minister could explain in that debate why there will be no companion passes to help disabled people travel under the concessionary bus pass scheme.