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17 Jan 2008 : Column 1084

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Oh! Thank you, Mr. Speaker; I was on another planet, too.

Given the full answer given by the Prime Minister to the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) on the question of Darfur, may we have a debate in Government time on the plight of those people?

Ms Harman: I will consider the question of Darfur for a forthcoming topical debate. The House is always very concerned about Africa, and we are discussing Kenya this afternoon. I shall consider the hon. Gentleman’s question as a request for a further topical debate.

Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): On the subject of pay, I would like to raise the issue of the national minimum wage, and the fact that employers are able to abuse it, particularly in the case of the lowest paid workers who work in restaurants and hotels. If they are given a tip when someone pays by credit card, that is used to supplement the national minimum wage. Could we have a debate to rectify that ridiculous anomaly?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend raises an important point. I know that before this House introduced the national minimum wage by statute, she was a champion in her union for its implementation. She has now come to this House and said that it is important that we do more to enforce it. I will bring her points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, because he is presiding over a taskforce at the moment to ensure that we have tougher enforcement of that important law.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): May we please have a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House on special educational needs? Given the immense power of local authorities as the bodies that assess, decide on, pay for and, more often than not—through their in-house services—provide for children’s special needs, but that the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families has considered the question of assessment and funding and argued for a number of mechanisms by which that link could be broken, is it not now timely that the House should have an opportunity to consider the issue? There are very large numbers of vulnerable children who are not getting what they need, for whom we have to cater.

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman will know that the children’s plan, which was announced to the House by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, places great importance on the provision for children with special educational needs. Indeed, it is drawing on the work of the hon. Gentleman in taking the matter forward. He raises an important point. It is not just a question of getting the right policy but of ensuring that it is implemented throughout every part of the country. There should not be a postcode lottery, but every family in which there is a child with special needs should have the right services and support, for both the child and the family.

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Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): I welcome yesterday’s statement by the Leader of the House on the SSRB report, particularly the intention to end once and for all the invidious practice of allowing MPs to vote on their own salaries. Will she clarify for the House the exact timetable for implementing the future framework for MPs salaries, and for the ending of our ability to vote ourselves a pay rise? It is important.

Ms Harman: I shall set out the procedure and the timetable. Next Thursday, the House will be able to debate our proposals for the pay rate that will apply to us as Members of Parliament from April 2007 to April 2008. The House will also have before it a motion that the Government have tabled to establish the process of the review by Sir John Baker. It expresses the intent to come back to the House before it rises for the summer recess with the mechanics and procedure whereby we will never again have to do what is unacceptable both to Members and to members of the public—vote for our own pay increases.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): May we have a short debate or statement on applying the EU emission trading scheme to lifeline flights to remote and peripheral communities? Everyone appears to agree that different rules should apply to lifeline flights, but the Government and the Commission do not seem able to agree about how that should be done. The matter is of great concern to my constituents, and it is becoming time-critical. May we have it discussed properly, in the open?

Ms Harman: I know that that matter is of concern, and under discussion, in Government. I will bring it to the attention of the relevant Secretaries of State.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): May I suggest that the topical debate on 31 January should be about prosecuting rape cases? Successful prosecution for rape is scandalously low, and women are frightened by rape, especially when they see the sort of articles that appear in the newspapers today. May the House debate the matter? I believe that we can introduce proposals to increase the successful prosecution of rape cases.

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend raises an issue on which she has campaigned. It is a matter of concern for hon. Members of all parties. We have had a debate on rape in the past month or so, but of course we will consider it again as a topic for a future debate. Too many men still evade justice. However, we have made progress in the past 10 years. Since 1997, the number of convictions of men for rape has increased by 30 per cent. That has happened because we have toughened the law, improved protection for victims and witnesses and have a special team of prosecutors now backing the important work, especially of the Metropolitan police, on rape. However, I take my hon. Friend’s point, and we will consider this as a subject for a future topical debate.

Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): I apologise if I sound like a cracked record when I ask the Leader of the House yet again whether we can have a debate on post office closures—but that would allow me to raise the behaviour of Post Office Ltd, which has told a
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village shop owner in my constituency who is due to lose a post office in the shop, and wishes to replace it with a paypoint, that they will lose their compensation under the post office closure scheme.

Ms Harman: Post offices have been debated recently in Westminster Hall, and the hon. Gentleman had an opportunity only half an hour ago to raise the subject in oral questions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for the way in which she dealt with my previous question about 25 per cent. cuts in physics departments in our universities and the implications for the Daresbury laboratory in the north-west. This week, documents were published under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which suggest that Ministers have been told by the Science and Technology Facilities Research Council about the implications of their financial allocation. May we have a statement on the true position, and on how the current problem will be rectified?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend is a real champion of important science research facilities in Liverpool, and she has raised this matter several times in the House. I have been in touch with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills about the point that she made previously in business questions—and I know that she raised it with the Prime Minister, too. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills has written to her. If any further points arise from the extensive letter that he sent her, I know that she will have the opportunity to raise them directly with him again.

Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): Would it be possible to have a debate on the Floor of the House about Departments’ interaction with local football clubs? Many of the supporters of Luton Town football club, which is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran), have put together a bid, called 2020 Ltd, to save the club. Unfortunately, the bid may fail because of requirements by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and I know that other football clubs, such as Leeds, have suffered similar problems in the past. So will the right hon. and learned Lady consider a debate on football and Departments’ interaction with local football clubs?

Ms Harman: Perhaps I can best respond by suggesting that the hon. Lady raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend make a statement on proposals to deny future Members of Parliament the same pension entitlement as the rest of us? Will she resist those oppositional—or opportunistic—proposals, and perhaps remind colleagues, especially those who are registered millionaires, that there is no compulsion to accept the pension entitlement, or, indeed, the salary?

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Ms Harman: My hon. Friend has raised a point that will not be lost on Opposition Members— [Interruption.] The statements that the Leader of the Opposition makes for the sake of a quick headline grab might not necessarily get the support of Conservative Members. We shall see.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The European Union (Amendment) Bill is of huge constitutional importance to the country. Why has the Leader of the House not permitted two days’ debate on Second Reading, so that more Back Benchers can be called?

On topical debates, when will the Leader of the House allow a meaningful contribution from all parties so that there is more transparency about the choice of subjects for topical debate?

Ms Harman: I think that the House can rest assured: my response to the question about the business for the following week will look pretty repetitive in the next few weeks, because we will have many hours of debating the European Union (Amendment) Bill on the Floor of the House. A whole day’s debate for Second Reading of a Bill that has seven clauses and one schedule is perfectly adequate. We then have a day’s debate on the procedure, followed by many days of discussion and clause-by-clause examination in Committee of the whole House. I assure hon. Members that we have ample time for debating the Bill.

On the choice of topical debates, the hon. Gentleman knows that the process is new and we will review it in due course to ascertain how it has worked. The review will include the way in which we choose the subject. In the meantime, I encourage hon. Members to make more proposals for topical debates by e-mail or letter.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. and learned Friend knows that Lebanon has been without a president since 23 November—nearly two months. During that time, there have been 12 postponements of a parliamentary vote for the president. The recent Arab League initiative has failed once again, so we are left with an unstable and dangerous position, which could easily spill over into the rest of the middle east. It is a critical issue. Will my right hon. and learned Friend make time for a debate so that we can ask Ministers not only what they are doing but—perhaps more important—what more they will do to bring the matter to a swift conclusion?

Ms Harman: Instability in Lebanon and the wider middle east, which my hon. Friend raises, is of concern to the whole House. There will be a debate on the middle east next Thursday in Westminster Hall, and Ministers will be answering. That debate will be important, but it is by no means the last occasion on which we expect to discuss the matter in the House.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): Could the Leader of the House provide for a debate in Government time in the near future about the Government’s policy on the creation of new towns? There is a proposal for the siting of 10 large new
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towns—a figure that has been reduced from 57 candidate spots—and one of those sites is in my constituency, where it is proposed that a town of some 50,000 people should be plonked down. There has been no local input, and the issue is not one that can be decided upon by the local planning authority, still less the county council. It is a matter for the Government. It would be useful to have a debate in the House before February, when the decision will be made, at least so that my constituents could feel that they had had some democratic input into the decision.

Ms Harman: On the specific issue in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, perhaps he will consider applying for an Adjournment debate. It is very important that we have more housing in this country, so that people’s wish for a better home—a home that they can afford or that their children can move into when they grow up—can be fulfilled. Very many local authorities have applied for new towns, and for eco-towns in particular, to be developed in their areas. There is no question of a top-down approach having been taken, and of course there is widespread consultation. However, we must ensure that we have that extra housing, which is needed not by those who are already comfortably housed and well off, but by those who seek to improve their housing situation.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. and learned Friend will have read today’s Hansard report of yesterday’s excellent debate in Westminster Hall on children with disabilities. The debate highlighted the fact that the £34 million allocated to Scotland as its share of the UK-wide allocation seems to have disappeared without trace into the Scottish Executive’s coffers, presumably to fund some of the Scottish National party’s pet policies, rather than being used for the purposes for which it was intended. Will my right hon. and learned Friend ask one of her colleagues to raise the issue with the First Minister and to report back to the House on what has happened to the money?

Ms Harman: I shall raise that issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. We all want to ensure—I have already adverted to this—that there is proper support for every child with a disability and for their family, wherever the child lives. National resources should be available in all parts of the United Kingdom, and I shall ask my right hon. Friend to look into the issue.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on early-day motion 690, on the collapse of the trial against Derek Pasquill?

In particular, will she make time for a debate on the proposal for an inquiry into how the Foreign Office pursued Mr. Pasquill under the Official Secrets Act 1989, while all along holding documents that
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exonerated him? Does that not show the need for a thoroughgoing review of the official secrets legislation?

Ms Harman: With regard to any individual case under the Official Secrets Act, the question whether a prosecution should be brought is initially for the Attorney-General to determine in the public interest. Thereafter, the prosecution is conducted independently by the Crown Prosecution Service. Whether to proceed with the prosecution is a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service or the court to decide— [ Interruption. ] As for whether there should be a debate in the House on the case that the hon. Gentleman raised, I understand that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office still has to consider whether disciplinary proceedings are necessary. It would therefore not be appropriate to discuss it in the House now.

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): When can we have a debate on lowering the voting age? Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of my private Member’s Bill, which aims to bring the voting age down to 16? Does she not agree that if we can engage young people at an earlier age, when they are still in schools and youth clubs, there is more likelihood that they will engage with politics—an engagement that will remain throughout their lives?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. We cannot have a situation in which our democracy has dwindling legitimacy because voting is increasingly the preoccupation only of older people, with younger people having turned their backs on our democratic process. Too many young people are not registered to vote, and too many do not go out to vote even though they are registered to do so. The issue is of major concern to my ministerial colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, who I know will consider the proposals that my hon. Friend has put forward in her Bill.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): The right hon. and learned Lady was the midwife of the Electoral Administration Act 2006, which makes provision for a one-stop registration of MPs’ interests. That provision can be activated only when the Government lay the relevant order. When do they plan to do so?

Ms Harman: I shall ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice to write to the right hon. Gentleman in respect of that question, and to place a copy of the letter in the Library.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): Last week Milton Keynes council voted to support proposals for a wind farm. Conservative councillors voted en bloc against the proposals, Labour councillors voted for them and, unsurprisingly, the Liberal Democrats split. Given the recent national report by the Socialist Environment and Resources Association—SERA—that found that Tory-controlled councils have an 82 per cent. rejection rate on wind farms, that Liberal Democrat authorities have a rate of 75 per cent. and that Labour authorities have a rate of just 36 per cent., will the Leader of the House consider making time for a debate specifically on wind power, so
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that the country can see who really supports renewable energy and who is just full of hot air?

Ms Harman: That is a good suggestion for a topical debate. It is important that more of our energy be provided by renewable resources. We shall of course be considering the Energy Bill next week, although the question is not just what the words are, but what the actions are. I have noticed another habit developing, which is that the Leader of the Opposition says one thing, but his party in local councils does something completely different. The environment is a classic case in point.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Next week, Mr. Speaker, you have selected a one and a half hour debate in Westminster Hall on the highly contentious issue of the regional spatial strategy for the south-west. Can the Leader of the House say what role she envisages the Minister for the South West playing in that debate next Tuesday, and what other opportunities there will be for a debate in Government time about that contentious document?

Ms Harman: The Minister for the South West is my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw). We are developing the role of the regional Ministers— [ Laughter. ] Regional Ministers are a recent innovation. I think that they are doing a very good job on behalf of their regions and that we can build on that role. What we need to do next—we are looking at this in the Modernisation Committee—is to consider how to develop a system for regional accountability to the House. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will contribute to that inquiry.

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet) (Lab): This week a company based in Thanet called Grupo Antolin has closed its doors, with a significant loss of jobs. Since 1997 we have more than halved unemployment in Thanet, which is an incredible achievement. However, unemployment in Thanet stubbornly remains much higher than the national average. It is clear from yesterday’s figures that there are about two dozen hot spots in the country where unemployment is a significantly worse problem than in other areas. Can we have a debate about how we can improve our ability to attract jobs to those unemployment hot spots?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend has made an important point about the pockets of deprivation that can stubbornly remain, even in areas where the economy is going from strength to strength. He has also identified the fact that unemployment is often connected with a lack of skills. I know that he supports the work that the Government are doing both to bring more opportunities for training and apprenticeships into his region, and to raise the educational attainment of all children, by ensuring that no young person leaves school at 16, having already experienced the last moment when they will ever receive any education or training. I know that that is why my hon. Friend supports raising the education leaving age to 18.

Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): May I bring to the attention of the Leader of the House early-day motions 702 and 707, regarding Arts Council funding? Early-day motion 702 states:

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