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Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab):
I hope that the Leader of the House has acknowledged the huge concerns about yesterdays performance in the Report stage of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. However, I am unclear about what the proposals are to ensure that that simply does not happen again. We increased the size of a Bill by roughly a third and
denied the House a debate on major issues, as many hon. Members have acknowledged. Can we have an assurance that that will simply never happen again and that there will be sufficient time for a proper debate on Report? Can we also have an assurance that the points that the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) made will be taken on board, namely that the time when we legitimately question the report from the relevant Committeethat is what it is supposed to beshould be separated and that if the Government wish to introduce new clauses on such major issues as prison officers right to strike, that should be done in Government time, rather than taking away from our opportunity legitimately to question the legislation?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes the point well. He recognises that there will always be a need to add to Bills when time-critical issues arise, as they did with the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill and the question of prison officers right to strike. However, we want to ensure that Government amendments are added in such a way that they are sufficiently debated and scrutinised in the Chamber, that that does not squeeze out the opportunity of Back Benchers to table amendments to the Bill that are in order and that they, too, are properly debated. I take his point.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Normally when a Prime Minister answers repeatedly and woodenly, This is Government policy, most of us smell a dither and a U-turn coming, so can we have a guarantee from the Leader of the House that when the identity card scheme finally comes to an end, there will be a quick statement at the Dispatch Box from the Prime Minister and not from the Home Secretary?
Ms Harman: Our position on identity cards is absolutely clear. We are pressing on. When it comes to dithering and U-turning, plenty of us are greatly confused by the Conservative partys position on ID cards.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): Can the Leader of the House organise for the Department for Work and Pensions to have a debate so as to explain to the House the regulations or other arrangements that the new Child Support Agency will operate under? In 1998, I secured an interim assessment on behalf of a resident parent from, basically, a reluctant payer who would not return the inquiry form. The new enforcement team decided in October last year that he owed £46,000 to his children, but that could not be recovered, because some of it cannot be recovered from before 2000. The team has now written to say that because the inquiry form was returned unopened, it has decided to reduce his liability to nil. Is the CSA really saying that anybody who does not want to pay should just stick the form back in the post with Gone away on it?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The biggest problem in child support is fathers who do not want to discharge their responsibilities to their children and who instead want the taxpayer to support them. That creates challenges. He makes an
important point that needs to be addressed, so I shall bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and ask him to liaise with my hon. Friend to discuss it.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Can we have a debate on the Prime Minister and his Governments attitude to Parliament? Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Prime Minister opens that debate, so that he has an opportunity to explain what has changed since the fine words in his statement to the House on 3 July and, in particular, to say why, less than one hour after answering Prime Ministers questions yesterday, he was not here to vote for the quite disgraceful programme motion put before the House? The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), said at the Dispatch Box that he would probably not be voting for it unless he had to make the case for it.
Can the right hon. and learned Lady also explain why, in referring to what happened yesterday, she said, As it turns out, as though it was a surprise? If the Government continue to treat Parliament as though we are that stupid, she cannot be surprised at the reception that she has received this afternoon.
Ms Harman: As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a statement in July about the governance of Britain and the importance of Parliament within it. Nothing has changed since then.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on social mobilitya subject that is permanently topical and of growing interest to all parties. Given the Opposition parties hostility to the Governments admirable policy, announced this week, of shifting the Higher Education Funding Council budget to give an advantage to those who have never been to university, given the Oppositions policy of hostility to extending the participation age to 18 and given the continuing hostility to the Governments policies of fair admissions in schools and universities, would not a debate on social mobility enable us to identify not only the factors holding it back, but the most effective policies for improving it?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend will knowhe shares the Governments total commitment to tackling poverty and promoting social mobilitythat all the policy issues, Government programmes and legislation that he has identified are directed towards that end. The Governments commitment is fundamental. I know that all the issues he raised are explicitly included in social mobility, but I will look to see whether a further opportunity to debate it, perhaps in a topical debate, might be possible.
Justine Greening (Putney) (Con):
May I suggest a topical debate on the dangerous shambles of the consultation on the proposed expansion of Heathrow airport? The Secretary of State for Transport never appeared before the House to be held to account and it now turns out that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was never involved in the environmental modelling work on the Heathrow expansion. The proposal will affect millions of people and it concerns
the environment, the economy and climate change. It is also controversial, so if that is not topical enough for a topical debate, what is?
Ms Harman: I did tell the House, including the hon. Lady, that I considered Heathrow expansion as a subject for a topical debate before Christmas. I accept that many Members are concerned to debate the issues surrounding expansion. I did not pick it in the end because, after the consultation document was issued but before the end of the consultation period next month, those issues were discussed in a Westminster Hall debate. If the hon. Lady wants to explain why, notwithstanding that debate, Heathrow expansion remains a good subject for a topical debate, she can talk to me about it or drop me an e-mail.
Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): I am aware that the House will debate preventive health services for a full 90 minutes later this afternoon, but I ask the Leader of the House to find time for a specific debate on the future of NHS dentistry. Does she agree that doing so is even more important in view of the revelations in The Independent today that show that health care in this country is now the most expensive in Europe?
Ms Harman: There will, as the hon. Gentleman says, be an opportunity to raise the ever-topical subject of NHS dentistry in this afternoons debate, but let me remind the House that more people have NHS dentistry now than at any previous time. We want to increase still further the number of people who have an NHS dentist, but it is more than ever before. In addition, we are increasing the number of dentistry students going through our high-quality dentistry schools.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): Pursuant to the earlier remarks of the Leader of the House about the report of the Senior Salaries Review Body, will she explain in her inquiry mode whether she looked into how, earlier this year and before any Member of Parliament saw a copy of the report, so much of the information was made available to Sunday newspapers and other broadcast media? If the report has not yet been printed, how has the chairman of the parliamentary pensions system been able to get a copy of it?
Ms Harman: It is custom and practice for Leaders of the Opposition and chairs of the trustees of parliamentary pensions to receive a draft copy before it goes to the printers. That has, indeed, occurred on this occasion. As to the various speculations in the newspapers about the SSRB report, we will have to wait until it is published to establish whether the leaks were accurate.
On public sector pay policy, it is not jumping the gun in respect of the SSRB report for the Prime Minister to point outand for the Government to strongly take the viewthat we are paid out of the public purse. That being the case, we should expect to have the same public sector pay discipline applied to us as has been applied to the rest of the public sector as we take the difficult decision to ensure that pay is staged so that inflation stays down and interest rates remain low in order for the economy to remain strong.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Will it be possible to include in the resolutions on the SSRB report a call for Parliament to review the issue of the communications allowance? It is widely rumoured that the SSRB report is highly critical of the Governments communications allowance, whereby £10,000 goes to every Labour MP in a hard-pressed constituency for propaganda purposes
Mr. Chope: I do not use it at all. We need to ensure that a proposal to remove the communications allowance, thereby saving taxpayers a lot of money, is put fairly and squarely before the House for resolution.
Ms Harman: I just want to correct the misapprehension that the communications allowance is available only to Labour Members. It is available to all MPs who are concerned to communicate with their constituents. I believe that it is extremely important for MPs to be able to communicate to their constituents the important work they do in the House in their constituents interests. I can tell the hon. Gentleman and the House that 547 Members have claimed the communications allowance. As I say, it is certainly not just for Labour MPs. When the allowance was set up, it was agreed that its operation should be subject to review by the House authorities. That review is under way. As to what changes to the allowance, if any, are proposed by the SSRB, the hon. Gentleman will be able to find out next Wednesday.
John Penrose (Weston-super-Mare) (Con): May I press the Leader of the House on her earlier responses to questions about ID cards? In her reply to the shadow Leader of the House, she used the example of including biometric data on passports, which is clearly a narrower and more voluntary system in comparison with the Governments earlier statements on having a mandatory and national ID cards scheme. What we want to find out and what the Leader of the House was subsequently asked is whether the Government remain committed to such a scheme and whether the Prime Minister will make a statement on whether the Government plan to introduce moves in that direction.
Ms Harman: I think the Prime Minister commented on that yesterday in response to a question in Prime Ministers questions. I have repeated what he said and I do not think that I can add anything further to it.
Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): The Leader of the House says that she is looking into the possibility of having debates on Wales and on the Commonwealth. May I urge her to think also about having a debate on London issues? We used to have an annual debate on London, which allowed Members with London constituencies and others to raise all sorts of general issues about London. Will she therefore think about adding such a debate to her list for consideration?
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con):
May I take the Leader of the House back to a point about statements raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May)? Is it not the case that the Prime Minister is the worst offender with his announcement on NHS screening and his confirmation
of the Cabinets decision on nuclear power? Also, we all have a fair idea about where the leaks on the SSRB are coming from. The Leader of the House often refers to herself as the Houses policeman, but is it not the case that the Prime Minister has effectively taken away and broken her truncheon, leaving her powerless?
Ms Harman: The Prime Minister has made more oral statements to the House than I can recall ever happening before. As I have said, there is always a balance to be struck as to whether issues should be announced via oral questions, a written ministerial statement, an oral statement or whatever. I sense a certain disbelief at my statements on this matter, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that I take it very seriously. I cross-examine my colleagues about why they have done things in a particular way and I would not defend them if I thought that they had treated the House with disrespect. It is not my job to preside over Ministers not taking this House seriously.
Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) about the placing of documents relating to the Prime Ministers preventing violent extremism programme in the Library, the Leader of the House should know that the Prime Minister made a commitment to put the relevant documents in the Library as long ago as 14 November, and on 21 November the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government wrote to me saying that they would be put in the Library shortly. However, the Secretary of States office has now told my office that there is no timetable for their delivery. Although the programme is important and worth while, Members will rightly wish to scrutinise the details of where the money is going. Will the Leader of the House please ensure that the problem is cleared up as a matter of urgency?
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman can ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government about that next Tuesday, but he has made a serious point. I will look into it, and ensure that the Secretary of State writes to him and to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) before next Tuesday.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Notwithstanding the debate on the armed forces that will take place later today, may we have a separate urgent debate on the funding of the excellent armed forces charity Combat Stress? Given that an increasing number of armed forces personnel are suffering from post-traumatic stress and post-traumatic stress disorder, are the Government confident that the current level of funding is adequate for the needs that it must serve?
I will bring the hon. Gentlemans question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, but he has raised two issues: the amount that is spent on defence, and how it is allocated. It is of the highest priority that those who put their lives on the line should have the best possible support service, a point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Anne Moffat). As the hon. Gentleman suggested, he will be able to raise that later today in the armed forces debate. As for the overall amount spent on defence, we spend more in real
terms than any other country in the world except the United States. We have a very good record in that respect.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): It really is not good enough for the Leader of the House to tell Members to make suggestions for topical debates. Does she not think it might be noticed that every time the Prime Minister makes an announcement about something on a Monday, it miraculously becomes the subject of a topical debate on the following Thursday? During the debate on apprenticeships, the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), said that
the debate is topical given that the Prime Minister has made announcements on apprenticeships in the past few days.[ Official Report, 29 November 2007; Vol. 470, c. 468.]
Ms Harman: I think that if the Prime Minister has made a statement on something that is of great concern and importance to the country and is being debated outside the House of Commons, the fact that he has taken an initiative on it should not bar it from being the subject of debate in the House. There is no scientific or correct way of choosing subjects for topical debates, which is why it is right for us to review the issue in the spring.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): May we have a statement from the Prime Minister next week on who would control the Government and our nuclear deterrent if the Prime Minister were indisposed because of an accident, illness or terrorist activity? Would it be the Leader of the House, the Cabinet Secretary, the defence chiefs, or perhaps David Beckham?
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): May we have a debate in Government time entitled Ludicrous application of EU regulations? It would allow us to highlight the fact that over the past five years some £22 million has been given to former United Kingdom residents living in other European countries in the form of the winter fuel allowance, over £11 million of which has gone to former UK residents living in Spain. As pensioners struggle to pay their winter fuel bills in this country, is it not an outrage that so much public money is being spent on winter fuel allowances for people living in far warmer climes?
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Have you or Mr. Speaker received any notice from the Solicitor-General about a statement to the House on the collapse of the prosecution of Derek Pasquill, a Foreign Office official who was charged under the Official Secrets Act? The case collapsed on its first day because the Crown Prosecution Service indicated to the court that internal Foreign Office documents about the rendition information that Derek Pasquill had leaked to the press undermined the prosecutions case that the leaks were damaging. In addition, Madam Deputy Speaker
Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Before the hon. Gentleman goes much further, perhaps I should say that this is not a matter for the occupant of the Chair. I understand its importance to the hon. Gentleman, but it is not the responsibility of the occupant of the Chair.
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