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We now have chronic hybridity, with some issues being dealt with by this House, and some by independent elements. The public are unable to see the clear picture that they need. They need to be able to see that public money is properly spent according to clear rules, and if those rules are breached, they must see that people are held to account and that the money is paid back. The review led by Mr. Speaker will consider such matters. We will have a review in the right sense of the word: we will think about the matter, deliberate on it, examine the evidence and then get to the right solution.
Can we find time for a debate about the most effective methods of reducing reoffending among 15 to 18-year-olds who receive a custodial sentence, particularly in view of the Youth Justice Boards decision to withdraw funding from Thorn Cross young offenders institute? At the institute, which is in my constituency, people can currently get vocational qualifications, join the fire cadet service with Cheshire fire service and get music tuition from the Hallé orchestra. A debt is repaid to the community with the help of local voluntary organisations, but most importantly, there are activities on offer to address offending behaviour. From April, there will only be enclosed institutions with none of the resources to do those things.
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point about Thorn Cross young offenders institution. It must be a priority that young offenders are not only punished, but rehabilitated when they come out of institutions so that they are able to get on the straight and narrow. I shall bring her comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice.
Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): In recent weeks, Members of all parties have raised genuine concerns about the post office closure programme, which the Leader of the House accepted is a sensitive issue. In my constituency, it is so sensitive that the whole network change programme consultation has had to be postponed, apparently under the instructions of the Government. The Post Office has written to postmasters and postmistresses, delaying the consultation until after the local elections. Will the Leader of the House please reconsider a request that has been made several times for a debate in Government time on the genuine concerns that exist in our communities about this important issue?
The Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform gave evidence on this issue to the Select Committee a couple of days ago. The Committee will report on the issue and there will be further debate in this House in future.
Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): May we have a debate on the standards and costings of election promises? Prior to the Scottish elections last May, the people were presented with an uncosted fantasy manifesto, which has led to an unprecedented number of about-turns and broken promises. Does the Leader of the House agree that treating our electorate with such contempt only furthers public mistrust of politics, politicians and the political process?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point on behalf of his constituents. He wants to ensure that they have the services they need, and that they are not subject to broken promises or a postcode lottery by the Scottish Executive.
Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): Please may we have a debate on the accountability of English Heritage to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and this House? The current funding crisis involves Salisbury, Canterbury, Durham and Lichfield cathedrals and concerns the best way to conserve mediaeval stone. It has been described by Sir Hayden Phillips, a distinguished former permanent secretary at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Lord Chancellors Department, as
falling short of the best standards of public administration in the decision-making process.
Mr. John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): May I thank the Leader of the House for selecting Holocaust memorial day as a subject for topical debate last week? I am sure that she will have been impressed by the attendance and quality of contributions in that debate. Will she ascertain through the usual channels whether a debate on this important topic could become a scheduled annual event? That would be widely appreciated in the House and elsewhere.
Ms Harman: The topical debate on Holocaust memorial day was a good example of the role that can be played by such debates. I congratulate all Members who took part and I will certainly consider my right hon. Friends suggestion.
Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con):
The Leader of the House will be aware of the long-standing convention observed by all previous Governments that to inform debates in this House, Ministers place on the Table documents relating to policies under debate. Surely, therefore, they should place on the Table the positions taken by Ministers in respect of clauses debated on the European convention on the constitution, which are mirrored word for word in the current legislation on the Lisbon treaty. Yet they
have refused to do so. Surely they cannot be arguing that this is a matter of national security, as this information is available to every Government in Europe, although it is not available to Members of this House. She cannot say that it is not related to the debate, because it has been debated repeatedly by those few Members who do have access to the documents. Will she at least think about whether those documents should be placed on the Table to inform the rest of the debate on this constitutional treaty?
Ms Harman: We obviously want the debate to be as well informed as possible, with all the appropriate supporting documentary evidence. That is certainly the position of Ministers in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and I am sure that that will happen.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): When may we have a debate on women in prison so that we can discuss the recommendations of the Corston review? I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend knows that, last week, the English childrens commissioner produced a report on mothers in prison, showing the damaging effect of that on young children. Could that be a subject for a topical debate?
Ms Harman: That is a good suggestion for a topical debate and I thank my hon. Friend for it. Today the House of Lords will hear a debate, led by Baroness Corston, about women in prison. I believe that we can ensure that more women are prevented from offending and reoffending. We can also ensure that more women have effective non-custodial sentences and that, when they have to be put in prison, they are in prisons nearer their families and more is done to rehabilitate them.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Will the Leader of the House find Government time or grant a topical debate on family courts, where it is increasingly apparent that natural parents have no rights and they are denied even the transcripts to enable them best to represent the interests of their case and their natural children?
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. There is a concerning lack of transparency in the family courts, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice is examining. We need to be sure that the privacy of children and families is protected, and that justice is done and seen to be done. I emphasise that topical debates happen in Government time.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): President Karzai has blamed British troops for the increased suffering of his people in Helmand province. He has rejected the UK Governments advice on the expulsion of diplomats and on the appointment of a UN envoy. Until we went to Helmand province, only seven of our brave British soldiers had died. The total is now 87. Should not we have a debate before we order our troops to put their lives at risk for the ungrateful, misguided Karzai Government?
Ms Harman: I think that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister tackled that in Prime Ministers questions yesterday, and it is constantly the subject of debate and discussion in oral questions and Committees of the House.
Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): Will the Leader of the House please consider a debate on consultancies awarding contracts in the national health service, in the light of the fact that two previous chief executives from NHS trusts, including mineBarking, Havering and Redbridgewho received large pay-offs, leaving their trusts with a deficit of £39.9 million, have now set up a business to advise the NHS on how to run hospitals? Surely that should be called Not Fit for the Future.
Ms Harman: I will bring the hon. Gentlemans point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. Everyone wants the resources that go into the health service to be used for care and support for those who need it and those who work on the front line, caring for patients.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): May we have a debate on publicly funded bodies, such as the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the members of which are well rewarded? My constituent received a letter and visit from that organisation and was offered a £10 gift voucher to take part in a survey of standards in public life,
Even if you dont feel you know much about the subject.
Ms Harman: I hesitate to say anything about the Committee on Standards in Public Life because it is independent and has to be allowed to do its work independently. However, I am not sure that we need to give £10 gift vouchers to members of the public to know that we must get on with our work and ensure that the public have confidence in the way in which the House goes about its business.
Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con): Will the right hon. and learned Lady ensure that we urgently revisit the security of electoral registration in view of the Council of Europes highly critical report? Do she and her fellow Ministers have the faintest idea of the implications for the UKs reputation if we fall into the monitoring process?
Ms Harman: I think that there are two electoral registration problems: people who register when they are not eligible to do so or are falsely registered to rig the vote, and the millions of people who are not entitled to vote and disfranchised because they are not registered to vote. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice is examining the matter. We need to be sure that our electoral register is both secure and complete. We cannot continue with a position whereby between 3 million and 4 million people who are eligible to vote cannot do so because they are not on the electoral register.
Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby) (Lab):
Every day, my constituents have to endure thousands of belching vehicles travelling through the constituency, which has some of the highest asthma rates in the country. Last week, the Mayor introduced a low emissions zone in London and it will save thousands of lives. Will the Leader of the House kindly make time to
discuss that important initiative and the way in which it can be introduced in places such as Sefton so that we, too, can save lives?
Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for bringing to the Houses attention the question of how we ensure that people who have asthma or other respiratory problems are protected from traffic emissions. I join her in congratulating the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, on introducing the pioneering low emissions zone. I know that it will be considered in other cities throughout the country to ascertain whether they can do the same.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): May we find time for a debate on the position of UK nationals facing trial overseas, with particular reference to the case of Mr. Simon Mann? We should do what we can to ensure that they have access to lawyers, that they are brought before a judge and that they have full access to this countrys consular facilities, and when appropriate, if there is a shortage of such facilities, to those of friendly countries such as the United States.
Ms Harman: I think that that is the current arrangement. The hon. Gentleman is right to pay tribute to the consular facilities in countries where British citizens find themselves in difficulty. They are a lifeline. I am sure that what he proposes is already under way, but I will ask my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to write to him to confirm that that is the case.
Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider holding a debate on employment law, especially the gross misuse and abuse of grievance procedures, particularly by North West Transport Supplies Ltd at Moss Side in Leyland, which has abused one of my constituents, Mr. Glyne Greenidge, in a terrible way?
Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Twenty-six per cent. of young people in my constituency are not in employment, education or training. We learned this week the shocking statistics that 75 per cent. of young people in social housing are on benefit, and more than 50 per cent. of all age groups in social housing and on benefit, are in workless households. May we have an urgent debate on the Governments record on welfare dependency and their abysmal failure to deliver social mobility in the past 11 years?
Ms Harman: There are now more jobs in the economy. The problem when we came into government was too few jobs. Now, there are 600 vacancies [Interruption.]600,000 vacancies across the economy. That is why we have been able to move forward with our welfare-to-work programme so that there is work for those who can as well as security for those who cannot. More lone parents are in work and more people are coming off incapacity benefit into work. We are ensuring that young people in particular have the skills and qualifications to take up the increased number of jobs that are now available.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Arising from what my right hon. and learned Friend has said a number of times today, does she understand the point, which is often made outside this place as well as by hon. Members, that there needs to be public confidence about the allowance system? I am afraid that that confidence is currently lacking. Although I recognise the measures that have so far been taken, it was only a short time ago that attempts were made to exempt Parliament from the Freedom of Information Act. In those circumstances, there is bound to be a suspicion that what is happening is a clublike investigation that will not lead to real reform.
Ms Harman: The public are understandably angry about the facts that were revealed in the case of the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway). However, hon. Members are every bit as angry, because that case has cast a stain over us all and over the institution of Parliament. All the members of the Members Estimate Committee are fully aware of the situation and determined that we should come up with proposals, under the leadership of the Speaker, that fully restore public confidence and are clear, straightforward and transparent. That is what the House asked the Speaker to do when we debated hon. Members pay some weeks ago, and his Members Estimate Committee will be getting on with it.
Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con): The right hon. and learned Lady is aware that the Government are conducting a review of the starring system for unitary authorities and counties, which is taking an inordinate amount of time to complete. Somerset lost a recent British Dyslexia Association standard, but it is hiding behind the starring system, saying, Were a four-star council, so were okay. Will the Government please get the situation sorted out as quickly as possible, so that there is a proper system for marking counties and unitariesI have no problems with thatin a transparent way that is understandable to members of the public?
Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): There is real concern in my constituency and elsewhere about the corporate strategy of Redcats, a large local employer of female labour in particular. It is likely that there will be hundreds of redundancies. On behalf of myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), who cannot be here today, may I press my right hon. and learned Friend to arrange for a statement indicating that the Government will seek to persuade Redcats not to make so many people unemployed, but that if that transpires, the Government will make local agencies available to assist people in finding new work? Otherwise, real devastation will be inflicted on those communities.
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