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One way in which Ministers show disrespect for the House is in their failure to answer written questions properly. Departments are refusing to answer any questions about data security, including factual questions about the past. Instead, they hide behind the ongoing Cabinet Office review. However, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Justice
have answered questions about past data security. If they can answer the questions, why cannot the other Government Departments do so? Will the Leader of the House remind her ministerial colleagues of the importance of written questions? Every week she tells us that she puts Parliament first; every week her colleagues treat Parliament with disdain.
In November the Chancellor announced that Her Majestys Revenue and Customs had lost the personal data of 25 million people. It has now been reported that at least 20 more data security breaches have been discoveredthat is two incidents each week since the Government said that they would sort it out. May we have a debate on the Governments chronic mismanagement of peoples data?
Yesterday the Prime Minister evaded specific questions about the cost of the Northern Rock crisis to the taxpayer. Given the supposed commitment of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House to put Parliament first, and given how serious the crisis is, when will the Chancellor make a statement on how much that is costing the British taxpayer?
Finally, I understand that Tony Blair has written to the Prime Minister with a progress report on the Prime Ministers first six months. In the interests of transparency, would the right hon. and learned Lady place a copy of the letter in the Library?
Talking of Tony Blair, it has been reported that President Sarkozy supports the nomination of Mr. Blair for the EU presidency. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary supports Mr. Blairs nomination, but may we have a statement from the Prime Minister on whether Mr. Blair is his preferred candidate? In six months, the Prime Minister has abandoned the national interest, ignored the British people and left us on the sidelines in Europe. Having waited so long for the top job, is the Prime Minister going to find that, yet again, he is dancing to Tony Blairs tune?
Ms Harman: The right hon. Lady raised a number of points. I would like to express what I am sure is the feeling of the whole House, and send our sincere condolences to the widow of Mr. Newlove. We all want to learn the lessons of that terrible crime and we continue to determine to take action against serious violent crime.
The right hon. Lady asked about organ donation and about Government policy on organ donation. The policy is clear. We set up a taskforce, which has reported. We want to increase the amount of organs available for donation. That is important to save lives, because all too often at present people die while they are on the waiting list for organ transplant. The proposals arising from the work of the taskforce will be implemented by the Government. As for presumed consent and whether we should move to an opt-out system, that is not Government policy, but a subject on which the Government are keen to see further and wider debate. It is not a party political issue. We all need to think about how policy can ensure that organs are available for donation.
The right hon. Lady made some points about the SSRB and complained that, as she put it, we had sat on the report since July. There is a particular context of public sector pay this time around in which we are
considering the question of MPs pay. We want to be sure that we do what should have been done many years ago: end the system whereby we vote on our own pay. At the same time as we published the SSRB report we issued a written ministerial statement, which states that we will propose that we do not award ourselves more than 2 per cent., and which also proposes a mechanism for ending the system whereby we vote on our own pay. The right hon. Lady mentioned timing in relation to the tabling of the motions. We tabled the motions yesterday and they are to be debated next Thursday. That will ensure that, should they want to, Members have enough time to table amendments to the motions. A number of Members have already done so.
In her usual way, the right hon. Lady went on to allege that the Prime Minister treats Parliament with contempt. I say to her that in his first six months this Prime Minister has come to the House to give oral statements more times than the last two Prime Ministers did during their whole terms of office. That is about accounting for things. [Interruption.]As I said, in his first six months he has made more oral statements than the last two Prime Ministers did during their whole terms of office. That is treating the House with respect and bringing issues before it.
This is the 15th time that the right hon. Lady and I have done business questions together. I see that she is a creature of habit. The pattern is clear: if there is a bandwagon, she will jump on it and if there is a myth, she will peddle it. She has carried on in that vein today.
Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): Further to what my right hon. and learned Friend said about the murder of my constituent Mr. Garry Newlove, is she aware that one of the people who murdered him had previously been let out on bail despite having had a history of previous offences and of ignoring court orders? Can we have a debate on how the bail system operates in this country, and on how we strengthen it to protect ordinary citizens from such violent offenders?
Ms Harman: I know that my hon. Friend has raised the issue with the Home Secretary and asked for an inquiry into the case so that lessonsif there are anycan be learned, particularly on the question of the granting of bail. I shall bring the fact that my hon. Friend has raised the matter again in the House today to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I join the expressions of condolence to the Newlove family. On a basis of consensus, I agree with the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and support the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones). I suggest that we have an early debate, without any motion for substantive decision, on how bail applies to those charged with murder, rape and the other most serious offencesparticularly in respect of under-18s or juveniles. Such a debate would be timely and the country would appreciate it.
On the business that the Leader of the House has announced for the next fortnight, I should say that obviously we are about to begin the long march towards the implementation of the European Union (Amendment) Bill, and that is welcome. On Monday week we are to debate a procedure motion. Will the right hon. and learned Lady ensure that the Government manage that, so that people know in good time when we will debate each substantive part of the Bill? There are environmental issues, constitutional issues and issues to do with home affairs and justice. In that way, peoplenot only us here, but those outside who have an interestcan see what is coming in good time, inform us and participate in the process.
As one who has always supported the presumption that organs should be given, I welcome the Prime Ministers statement on that and suggest that we now seek to do something about deciding the matter again here; I realise that legislation is required. I suggest that we have an initial debate, to test the mood of the House and pick up the issues, and go on to implement, or discuss implementing, the change. That would be welcome and I hope that it could be done relatively easily and speedily.
I have two last things to raise. A local government announcement is about to be implemented by a decision on the settlement for the coming year. Before that, may we have a debate on whether local councils will have the resources to implement equal pay for women and men who are local government staff?
On Members pay, I welcome the Leader of the Houses motions on the Order Paper in relation to an independent mechanism for determining pay. Can she give an assurance to colleagues that this is not an excuse for putting stuff into the long grass but that we will have decisions not only about the mechanism but about the conclusions by the summer of this year?
Ms Harman: Perhaps I could just say, in case I gave the wrong figures last time, that what the Prime Minister has actually done in his first six months is given more oral statements to the House than the other two did in their terms of office. [ Interruption. ] Sorrytheir first six months. We are comparing the first six months.
On the subject of bail for those who have been charged with committing offences, I suggest that we could consider that for a topical debate. A number of cases have just been concluded in the courts that raise the question of criminal offences that have been committed by people who are free because they are out on bail.
On the European Union (Amendment) Bill, I have told the House that on Monday week we will discuss the procedure for conducting the Committee stage. All of that days business will be an opportunity to discuss the process by which we debate the Bill in Committee on the Floor of the House. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. As well as scrutinising the structure of the Bill, which has only seven clauses and one schedule, we want to enable the House to discuss the importance of Europe in relation to our economy, the global environment, tackling cross-border crime, and the Europe-wide contribution to international development. As I say, the Bill has only seven clauses and one schedule, and the House will have ample time to discuss it.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of transplant policy, as did the shadow Leader of the House. The taskforce has proposed further action, which the Government have committed to take. It has looked particularly at how the transplant ratethe availability of organs for transplanthas been improved in other countries. The country that has made most improvement is Spain, but the taskforce says that the reason for that is not necessarily presumed consent but the other measures that the taskforce is proposing to ensure that organs are made available. This issue concerns both sides of the House, we need a debate, and it needs to come to a conclusion. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman propose it for a Westminster Hall debate. Incidentally, I announced the Westminster Hall business for the following weeks last time, so I have not sought to re-announce it to the House today.
The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) asked for an opportunity for the House to debate equal pay in local government. We are firmly committed to equal pay. It is important that all women are entitled to fair pay, including those who do important work in public services in local government. That is why we have increased the capitalisation available to £500 million to enable back pay. However, there is clearly more work to be done to ensure that we have not only strong public services but fair pay between men and women.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the SSRB and ensuring that we do not set our own pay in future but have a mechanism whereby there is a proper comparison and a way of deciding independently from our having a vote. He asked whether this has been kicked into the long grass. He will see in the written ministerial statement that we issued yesterday that we have asked Sir John Bakerwe are very grateful that he has agreed to the Prime Ministers request to lead this reviewto produce his report so that we can come back to the House before the summer recess to resolve the issue.
Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): Would my right hon. and learned Friend take an early opportunity to look at the clamping regulations in force at the moment, to prevent people such as Nicola Platts in Great Barr, Birmingham from suffering at the hands of the sort of unscrupulous people who blocked her in? They made sure that she paid £150 cash there and then. If she had refused to pay that, she would have had to pay an additional £100 clamping charge. Will my right hon. and learned Friend look into this matter urgently, and bring legislation to the House so that we can do what the Scottish Parliament has done, and abolish the practice?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point on behalf of his constituent. He might take the opportunity to raise it next Tuesday, during Transport questions. We all want good traffic circulation and effective clamping, but we do not want extortion by cowboys, which is what he is concerned about.
Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con):
May we have a debate on the desirability of an equitable tax system? Has the Leader of the House seen the report by Professor David Newbery of Cambridge university,
which states that if motorists were required to pay the true cost of the damage they cause to the environment, they would pay tax at the rate of 20p per litre of fuel? Is she aware that the current tax rate on fuel runs at 60p per litre? We have the highest petrol prices in the European Union. If we cannot have a debate on this matter, will she, at the very least, see her right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and tell him that in his next Budget he should lay off the long-suffering British motorist?
Ms Harman: I am not clear from the right hon. Gentlemans point whether he wants higher or lower taxes on motoringpossibly both at the same time. This is obviously something he can raise with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in questions. I take it that the right hon. Gentleman therefore supports the Mayor of Londons proposals for a differential rate for gas-guzzling cars in the congestion charge.
[ That this House notes Holocaust Memorial Day is 27th January, the day the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated; recognises the significance of this day and the importance of remembering and learning from the past especially when there are those who seek to denigrate and deny its significance; observes that the lessons of the Holocaust have not been learnt and racism, anti-semitism and intolerance continue in the UK and abroad; further observes that the international community has failed to prevent the occurrence of genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Iraq and now Darfur; thanks the City of Liverpool for hosting the national event and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for organising the day; supports 2008's theme, Imagine, remember, reflect and react; applauds organisations like the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) for their work and in particular recognises the impact the acclaimed HET visits to Auschwitz have had in shaping young minds; further notes that a Book of Commitment will be placed in the corridor between the hon. Members' Cloakroom and hon. Members' Staircase between 1430 and 1630, Monday 21st to Wednesday 23rd January; and encourages all hon. Members to sign it and mark a day that helps to ensure the memory of the Holocaust is kept alive to serve as a warning now and in the future.]
Will my right hon. and learned Friend join me in congratulating the Holocaust Educational Trust on its excellent work with young people? I suggest, either next week or the week after, a topical debate in which the House can express its view that such dreadful events should never happen again.
I agree with the point that my right hon. Friend makes through his question. It is very important that we have, as we do, a statutory requirement to teach children in our schools about the holocaust as part of the curriculum. The year before last, the Chancellor announced that the Government were providing a further £1 million to support the Holocaust Educational Trusts Lessons from Auschwitz course, which takes sixth-form students to Auschwitz. The trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day
Trust have made a big impact on educating and informing people of all ages and from all walks of life, to make sure that the holocaust is never forgotten.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): On Members pay, does the Leader of the House agree that if the proposed Lisbon treaty is ratified more powers would be transferred away from this House, and it would therefore be right for our pay to be reduced? Will she ask the Senior Salaries Review Body to recalculate its proposals in view of that reduction of powers? It would obviously be wrong for us to be paid more when our control over legislation and policy is reduced. The same thing should apply to ministerial salaries, particularly those of the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister.
Ms Harman: The right hon. Gentleman will have a chance to raise those points in debate either on Monday, on Second Reading of the European Union (Amendment) Bill, or on Thursday, when we debate the SSRBs recommendations, or he can again synthesise the two points on Monday or Thursday.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): One hundred and nine Members have now signed early-day motion 512 on police pay, and next Wednesday thousands of police officers will be marching through Westminster in support of their claim.
[ That this House is disappointed by the failure of the Government to accept in full the recommendations of the Police Arbitration Tribunal police pay award; believes that the pay settlement should be backdated to 1st September; notes that the police are the front line in the fight against organised crime, terrorism and anti-social behaviour; recognises that their work puts them at great personal risk; further believes that this dispute over 0.6 per cent. difference is petty and needless; and calls upon the Government to reconsider its decision.]
Ms Harman: The situation in law is that it is for the Home Secretary to determine the pay of police officers, having considered any recommendations from the police officers negotiating machinery, which is what she has done. I want to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the work that the police have done, which we all support. However, we also recognise that we are in a difficult situation as regards the question of public sector pay. We have to ensure that inflation is low so that the cost of living remains low, and so that interest rates can be low, allowing the economy to remain strong, and allowing us to continue to invest in important public services, such as the police. That includes the provision of higher numbers of police and ensuring that higher pay rates can be sustained, year by year.
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