This is obviously an important issue for families in my hon. Friends constituency. I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to look into Redcats
and at what can be done. I will also ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government works with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to ensure that local agencies rally round and ensure a future for people currently working in that company, should things take a turn for the worse.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I support the calls for a debate on good governance across the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. In that debate, the right hon. and learned Lady might want to congratulate the Scottish National party Government on their historic first budget, passed yesterdaya budget that will freeze council tax, abolish prescription charges and increase police numbers and teachers. Perhaps she will also have a word of advice for her hapless Labour colleagues, who were ritually humiliated yesterday, albeit not by us, but by themselves, demonstrating that they are just as pathetic in opposition as they are in government.
Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): In response to an earlier question the Leader of the House referred to the Select Committee inquiry into the post office closure programme. Given the concern about that programme in all parts of the House, will she ensure that we will have an opportunity to debate the Committees report on the Floor of the House? Will she also ensure that I have an opportunity to talk about the total disregard for the widespread representations made about the closure of the Walnut Street and Francis Street post offices in my constituency, the sham consultation and the abject failure of Postwatch to represent the interests of residential and business users?
Ms Harman: When the Select Committee reports, it will be topical to discuss the post office closure programme, which might be a good subject for a topical debate. During that debate my hon. Friend will have a further opportunity to raise his constituents concerns about the Walnut Street and Francis Street post offices.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): My constituent, Mr. Simon Mann, has completed his jail sentence in Zimbabwe but has been transferred by the Mugabe regime to a potentially terrible fate in Equatorial Guinea, despite the fact that his appeals processes have not been completed and despite the assurances given to the British ambassador to Zimbabwe that that would not happen. May we have a statement as soon as possible on the Floor of the House from the Foreign Secretary about what action is going to be taken? Quiet diplomacy has failed and we now have to save Mr. Mann, whatever he has or has not done, from torture and a horrible death in a terrible situation.
Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet) (Lab): I do not know whether my right hon. and learned Friend has visited a bookmaker recently, but if she has, she will have noticed that many are exploiting an unintended loophole in the Gambling Act 2005, by installing up to four machines, each of which can take a stake on a single play of £100. Such machines are distorting the market for coin-operated machines so much that they are even affecting the seaside arcade industry and threatening jobs where machines are manufactured in my constituency. I have applied for an Adjournment debate on the subject, but perhaps it deserves a wider debate in the House.
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes two important points on behalf of his constituency. One is about gambling and the other is about the future of seaside towns. The future of seaside towns, including the amusements available, is perhaps something that we should consider for a topical debate when it gets a bit warmer.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): It is an awful long time since we had a debate on policing in London. Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider having a topical debate on policing in London, so that we can explore the recent Metropolitan police statistics, which show a significant fall in crime to its lowest level in nine years, with knife crime down 13 per cent. and an increase in offenders brought to justice? Such a debate would also be an opportunity to explore the London Mayors record in providing 10,000 extra police officers and police community support officers and his pledge for an extra 1,000, which contrasts with the Conservative candidates policy of cuts in the police budget.
Ms Harman: I will take that as a proposal for a topical debate, because the issue will become increasingly topical as we approach 1 April, when neighbourhood policing will be introduced in all areas in London. That is something that Londoners want. The work that those teams will do could well be the subject for a topical debate, which could include the absolute support of the Labour Mayor and the Labour Government for ensuring extra policing and the resistance to that from a number of Conservatives.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May we have a debate on public sector pay, during which the Government will be able to explain to the House why giving 475,000 teachers a 2.45 per cent. pay rise will control inflation, but giving 140,000 police officers a 2.5 per cent. pay rise will create rampant inflation?
Ms Harman: What the hon. Gentleman has done is transpose percentage increase figures from different years. We want to be sure that we can negotiate three-year pay deals, so in the year April 2007 to April 2008 all pay agreements had to be kept to 1.9 per cent. As well as properly rewarding important public sector workers, we are going to make absolutely sure that inflation and interest rates are kept low.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op):
In three days time, Churches and other religious organisations will be supporting an international day of prayer for those with autism and Aspergers
syndrome. Will the Leader of the House take this as a bid for a topical debate on the issue, which affects hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country? The conditions are under-recognised and under-resourced and they badly need a national strategy, a national taskforce and a well resourced plan for the future.
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point. For many years, families have struggled to support and care for children with autism, often to a great extent on their own and without the proper back-up of integrated services. There is now a great deal more awareness of the difficulties of autism and Aspergers syndrome, and a recognition of the importance of early diagnosis and integrated services. I congratulate the Churches on picking this for an international day of prayer, and we would like to work with the Churches, local government and the voluntary sector to ensure that families with a family member who develops autism or Aspergers have the backing that they need in future.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): As todays important announcementmade outside the Housethat the Treasury would take on £24 billion of Northern Rock debt effectively amounts to nationalisation, how come the Chancellor has not come to the Dispatch Box to make a statement? Will the Leader of the House guarantee to us that he will come tomorrow?
Ms Harman: The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made regular statements on Northern Rock. He has also made clear the principles with which he is approaching the matter, which involve giving priority to financial stability and security for those whose savings are invested in Northern Rock. The right hon. Gentleman and others ask for ever more statements. The Chancellor has said that when he has something to announce on Northern Rock, he will come to the House to announce it. Whenever he does so, however, the one thing that is always absent is any sign of a clear alternative strategy from the Opposition.
Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): May we have a topical debate on the irresponsible and inaccurate reporting of the media and, in particular, their failure to follow the Samaritans guidelines when reporting suicides? My Bridgend community has been called a death town, a suicide town and a suicide cult town. I have had researchers purporting to be from the BBC Ten oclock news asking for details of the parents and families of those who have died, so that they can interview them. That is irresponsible reporting. May we have a debate on that matter?
I think that we would all wish to express our sympathy and condolences to the families who have lost young people through suicide in this tragic situation in my hon. Friends constituency. I know that there is great concern among parents that the press reporting is making the situation more dangerous for young people. Instead of informing them of where to turn, it is simply whipping up fear. I know that my hon. Friend feels angry and aggrieved on behalf of her constituents, and that she is taking things forward herself. I am sure that what she has done by
raising the question of the guidelines will go a long way towards ensuring that they are enforced, as she rightly demands.
Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): I strongly support the requests of my hon. Friends the Members for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) and for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). Whatever Simon Mann may have done, or not done, does the Leader of the House accept that he is entitled to reasonable treatment and fair legal representation? There is real concern that he will get neither of those in Equatorial Guinea. Will she try to arrange an opportunity for the Foreign Secretary to tell us what the Government are doing to help him?
Ms Harman: I will ask my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, when he writes to the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), also to send a letter at the same time to set out what the Government are doing in this respect. If there are any further questions to be asked, on the basis of the information that the Foreign Secretary gives to hon. Members, no doubt they can raise the matter again.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): On Monday this week, British Waterways announced that it was pulling out of the Cotswold Canal Partnership, which is a major project to reopen a canal that is mainly in my constituency. The news was given really peremptorily by British Waterways, even to the Minister who has line responsibility for the matter. May we have a debate on the relationship between public bodies such as British Waterways, Government Ministers and this place, to discuss how such decisions are reached and whether we could be afforded the courtesy of some forward knowledge of them, so that we could prepare to deal with difficult situations such as these?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friends point touches on the important issue of national agencies making decisions in a locality or region that will have a profound effect on that region. There is sometimes a sense that they are not accountable to the people in the region or locality who will have to suffer the consequences of their action. That is why we are going to bring to the House proposals for regional accountability, in which I know that my hon. Friend will play an important part. Meanwhile, I will bring the question of British Waterways to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): The Leader of the House has already answered two questions on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill that will be before the House shortly. May I drill down on that issue a bit further? A ruling has been made that amendments on the question of abortion can be tabled, and I would wish to table an amendment to bring down the upper limit from 24 weeks. Will the Leader of the House give us an assurance that abortion will be discussed in Committee on the Floor of the House, and that it will not be hived off upstairs to another Committee? Will she ensure that an issue as important as this can have input from all Members on both sides of the House?
Ms Harman: The hon. Lady knows that the selection of amendments for debate is a question not for the Leader of the House but for the Speaker. On the question of abortion, the most important thing is that there is good sex education, that there is responsibility among young boys, and that there is contraception available for young girls
Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): In her discussions with the Foreign Secretary to convey the mood of many Members of the House concerning the plight of Simon Mann, will the Leader of the House also tell him that we would like to know what steps the Government are taking to bring in ambassadors or representatives from Equatorial Guinea, to put pressure on EU member states to get behind this case, and to ensure, as we did with those held at Guantanamo Bay, that any citizenwhatever they have or have not donehas the right to a free and fair trial and all rights under the law?
Ms Harman: I think we are all concerned that people are entitled to their human rights wherever they are, and that the British Government stand up for human rights internationally and, particularly, look after British citizens whose rights are being breached by foreign Governments. As I mentioned earlier, this is a matter for our consular services, and I will draw the hon. Gentlemans comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Further to those questions, surely we need more than just a letter; we need a statement on Simon Mann. He has two sons serving in the British Army. The point is that the Equatorial Guinea regime has kidnapped an EU citizen wholly unlawfully; there is no legal basis on which he can be held.
Ms Harman: If that is the case, it is certainly a question for our consular representatives to take forward. It is often the case that, working together with other EU partners, we can be more effective than we can acting as a country on our own.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con):
The European Union (Amendment) Bill has so far been debated in Committee for eight and a half hours. On every occasion that it has been debated, we have only reached the first group of amendments, with many Members being left standing when the debate closed. It has been possible, however, to debate general motions about the Lisbon treaty for 15 and a half hours. I know that the Leader of the House wants to have a full debate on this matter. She could make an enormous name for herself by being courageous and bold here. She could do one of two things. She could get rid of the motions on the Lisbon treaty and debate everything in Committee, or she could be even bolder. I understand that Committees can sit even when the rest of the House is not here. We have
a constituency week next week. Why does she not allow the Committee to sit next week so that we could have more time to debate these matters?
Ms Harman: We are having more debate on the Lisbon treaty and the European Union (Amendment) Bill than we did on the Nice treaty, the Amsterdam treaty and the Single European Act put together. Indeed, we had six hours of debateeffectively a whole dayon the procedure and we have tried to be flexible in our interpretation of the procedure motion. Quite frankly, I do not believe that anything would satisfy Conservative Members. I do not know whether they ever listen to the business statement, but they well know that European business is being amended day in, day out. At the end of it all, however, the only things we know about the Opposition are that they want isolationism and that their only policy is to have a referendum. On that basis, they will never be fit for government.
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): In support of my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) in respect of his constituent Simon Mann and his wife and children, may I ask the Leader of House to implore the Foreign Secretary to talk to our allies, particularly the United States which is so influential in this area? Will she do so as a matter of urgency, because if she does not, it may be too late?
Ms Harman: My suggestion to hon. Members who have raised this issue is to ask the Foreign Secretary for a meeting. I will tell my right hon. Friend to expect a request for such a meeting from hon. Members who have expressed interest in the case.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement in response to Sir Ronnie Flanagans independent review of policing in England and Wales. Copies of the final report have been placed in the Library.
I want to start by thanking Sir Ronnie for his report. He has worked hard, meeting and talking to people up and down the country. I particularly appreciate the work he has done to include the voices and views of front-line officers. His recommendations are independent and challenging to all of us across the political spectrum and to the police themselves.
In asking Sir Ronnie to carry out this review, we were determined to find the best ways to ensure that the Governments investment in extra police officers and police community support officers has an impact where it countswith visible teams in every neighbourhood and with officers able to focus on what will really make a difference in continuing to reduce crime levels. The report is wide ranging and it deserves further reflection and discussion. It raises important questions about how working practices can be reformed so that police officers can get the most out of their job and communities can get the best out of the police.
current levels of unnecessary bureaucracy are created both within as well as outside the police service.
Sir Ronnie is clear that freeing up police officers to do the job they came into policing to do requires more than simply removing paperwork, important though that is. It is not just about cutting requirements from the centre, important though that is, too. It requires new thinking on performance management from top to bottom of the police service; new attitudes to risk; new ways of working across the criminal justice system; and new technology to support the work of policing. I accept that challenge and we are already making progress in response to Sir Ronnies interim report from September.
First, from this April, our new public service agreements and targets will provide greater flexibility to focus on what matters locally, on serious violence and on antisocial behaviour, and streamline the process that gets suspected criminals to court. Secondly, we are consulting on reforms to the working of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 that will reduce police bureaucracy and allow experienced officers to focus on their core roles by making better use of police staff.