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Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con):
The Leader of the House will be aware that elections are imminent in Zimbabwe. Surely she agrees that it is crucial that they should be properly and fully monitored to ensure that Mr. Mugabe cannot yet again claim victory when he has lost an election. Will she allow a debate in Government timeif not then, will
she allow a topical debate, although I know that she will claim that such debates are in Government timeso that the matter can be discussed and appropriate arrangements made to help the people of Zimbabwe to get a Government who will help that country and help them?
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman makes a crucial point, because it is important that this country works with other countries and, in particular, with the European Union, to monitor those elections, and I take it as a proposal for a topical debate.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend has noticed that, yet again, six Bills listed on the Order Paper are identical to my private Members Bill, the Pedlars (Street Trading Regulations) Bill, which comes before the House next Friday. The Chairman of Ways and Means has written to the Government asking them to facilitate the legislation by supporting my Bill, which is supported by the Opposition parties. Will she have a word during the week with the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), to see whether he will facilitate getting the Bill into Committee on Friday, so that we can unblock all this legislation? I am told that up to 50 Bills are likely to come before the House in the not-too-distant future.
Ms Harman: I will bring my hon. Friends points to the attention of the relevant Minister.
Mr. Speaker: I call Angus Robertson.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): That will be myself. [Hon. Members: You will do.] I have been called worse than Angus Robertsonbut not much worse.
Would the Leader of the House make time available for an urgent statement by the Secretary of State for Transport on the Maritime and Coastguard Agencys rapidly deteriorating industrial relations? The right hon. and learned Lady will doubtless be aware that its workers are anticipating strike action for the first time. The management claim to have contingency measures in place should that happen. Many of us in coastal and island communities do not have a great deal of confidence in those measures, and this matter needs to be discussed in this House before it becomes time critical.
Ms Harman: We all hope that the contingency arrangements will not have to be put into effect because we hope that any disputes will have been settled before they reach that point. I join the hon. Gentleman in placing on record the importance of the MCAs work, and I pay tribute to those who work in it.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend will recall the chaos on the railways over Christmas, about which I tabled an early-day motion in January.
Yesterday, the Office of Rail Regulation published a report that was highly critical of Network Rail and the ongoing railway track work problems. Can we have a full debate on the Floor of the House on the whole railway industry so that we can compare public and private ownership of the railways and, in particular, examine track work costs and the levels of public subsidy and fares?
Ms Harman: That matter could be the subject of a debateperhaps my hon. Friend could propose it as the subject of an Adjournment debate. He makes an important underlying point. Since we came into Government, more passengers and more freight have been carried on the railways, and more trains are running on time. The ORR is right to place strongly and publicly on record the unacceptability of Network Rails track repairs in that respect, and I hope that we will see a prompt improvement.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Could the Leader of the House tell us when we will have the opportunity to debate the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill? Will she assure the House that the conscience clauses will not be subject to a Government Whip?
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman will know that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill has completed its passage through the House of Lords following its introduction there, and that votes were whipped on both sides. [Hon. Members: Not true.] Well, if I am wrong about that and if I am reminded in what respect I am wrong, I shall correct myself at some point. The Bill will come before this House in due course. It is a Government Bill, but the question of how different clauses are dealt with will be decided in due course.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Can we have an early debate on prostituted women so that we can get a sense of the feel of the House ahead of the review that the Leader of the House mentioned? Can she confirm that the rate of murder among prostituted women in this country is 18 times that among other women? Can she also confirm that in places where prostitution is legal, such as Nevada, or semi-legal, such as Germany, the rates of violence towards or abuse of prostituted women is far higher than elsewhere? Does she agree that taking DNA samples from men who go to massage parlours and brothels would be a way of putting men in front of their responsibilities, because almost all the horrible murders of prostituted women are carried out by men who have frequented them beforehand?
Ms Harman: My right hon. Friend raises a number of very important points, and I hope that he will raise them more fully in the international womens day debate. One of the Governments priorities is to end violence against women, and women who have got into prostitution face very high levels of violence and intimidation. On the question of DNA samples, it is right that I have the opportunity to bring to the Houses attention the fact that not only murders but many rapes can be solved by using DNA evidence that is collected and stored, whereas previously we would not have been able to bring offenders to justice.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): The Leader of the House may recall that last July, she caused uproar in the Chamber when she unilaterally and spontaneously suspended the Standing Orders of the House so that the Government, not the House, could put somebody on a Select Committee. Will she find time for a debate on item 47 of the future business, in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), which would prevent any recurrence of that abuse?
Ms Harman: I do not accept that I have caused uproar or done anything that has broken the rules of this House or exceeded my rights, nor would it have been accepted by the House authorities if I had done so. Everything that I have done has been perfectly in order and within the procedures.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Next week, hundreds of thousands of parents will receive notification of the school to which their child has been allocated for the year beginning in September. Given that it will be the first year under the new code of practice on school admissions, and in view of the important statements made by the schools adjudicator this week about how the system could be improved, may we have a debate on the issue to evaluate the effect of the new code of practice on school admissions?
Ms Harman: Ministers in the Department for Children, Schools and Families are evaluating closely how the new law and processes are working. The overwhelming majority of parents get their first choice of school, but we want to ensure that the system operates fairly and that everybody is in an equal position to get the choice of school that they want for their children. I shall draw my hon. Friends comments to the attention of the relevant Ministers.
Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): The post offices in Leopold road, Kingston road, Coombe lane and Wimbledon village in my constituency are threatened with closure. In many cases, the consultation is believed to be a sham and the rationale being put forward is simply wrong. May I ask the Leader of the House to reconsider her intemperate response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May)? After all, given the dithering of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which cost the British taxpayer £50 billion, to chide us for extra money seems a little rich. Will she reconsider her answer and give us time, in Government time, to debate this matter, which is important for local communities?
Ms Harman: The Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs has recently given evidence to the Select Committee on the progress of the post office closure consultation programme. No doubt the Committee will produce its report in due course. Nobody would defend a consultation if it were not carried out properly, in good faith, openly and according to objective criteria. That is how we expect the consultation to be carried out, and we are entitled to know that it is.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): A few days ago, I tabled early-day motion 1014.
[ That this House congratulates all those who have expended huge efforts over a decade to return an Avro Vulcan aeroplane to public display; believes that this is an icon of British heritage and an invaluable asset in assisting today's students to better understand British science, engineering and history; recalls that it remains the only project of its kind to have received support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and salutes the record-breaking first flight in its present restored form in October 2007; is concerned to learn that, because the final tranche of funding and sponsorship has yet to be secured, this fully flight-ready aircraft presently languishes in a Leicestershire hangar, unable to appear at UK airshows in 2008; and believes that urgent advice and assistance should be provided to the project team by the Department for Transport, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills to surmount the final funding hurdle of £150,000 before the end of March 2008 and thus to carry on the vital educational programme built around this incredible machine. ]
It draws attention to the fact that languishing in a Leicestershire hangar is a magnificent, fully flight-ready Avro Vulcan, which has been restored over 10 years by an active team of people. Will my right hon. and learned Friend draw the early-day motion to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport, the Secretary of State for Defence and the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, to see how they can help to bridge the final gap of £150,000we have had some Heritage Lottery Fund fundingby the end of next month, so that we can put on full public display this magnificent symbol of British science, engineering and post-war history? We are so close, but we need some central support.
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend poses a challenge. That is important work, and it seems that we are right near the end of it and want to ensure that we take the final steps so that that important Vulcan can be on public display.
Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) alluded to the recent publication of the amalgamation of 47 published and unpublished clinical trials on antidepressants. The Leader of the House and other hon. Members will be aware of the concerns that their constituents have about some of those drugs, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. May I suggest that that would be a useful subject for a topical debate, so that we can probe the Governments attitude to SSRIs and in particular how the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agencyas opposed to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellenceworks in relation to the approval of those drugs?
Ms Harman: I do not think that I can assist the hon. Gentleman any further than to say that I will refer his point to Ministers in the Department of Health. We want open, transparent and scientifically based assessments of and decisions on medicines that are available, to ensure that they do what they are supposed to do, that they are safe and that there is a fair deal between the taxpayer and the pharmaceutical companies. I shall raise the point with Ministers in the Department of Health.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): Can my right hon. and learned Friend inform the House how much taxpayers money has been used to refurbish the facilities in the Press Gallery, particularly the heavily subsidised bar? I have scanned the newspapers to try to get some information, but as yet I have been unsuccessful.
Ms Harman: I undertake to find out the information about the cost of the refurbishment of the Press Gallery and I shall arrange for the appropriate House official to write to my hon. Friend and put a copy of the letter in the Library.
To add to my earlier answer on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, the amendment on abortion in the House of Lords was of course subject to a free vote. Should there be any amendment on abortion in this House, of course and as is always the case, it would be subject to a free vote.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): What a pleasure it is to see you in the Chair, Mr. Speaker, and to know that we have as our Speaker somebody who is simply not prepared to be pushed around, either by snobs or by bullies.
May we have a debate on the continuing crisis in Darfur? Given that the numbers of dead, dying and destitute are increasing exponentially every day, is it not time that we had a debate in Government time, on the Floor of the House, to try to establish whether, and if so when, we will get the imposition of the no-fly zone first discussed more than three years ago and the necessary full-scale African Union-United Nations troop deployment to the region? That combination alone offers hope to the people of Darfur that they might enjoy the freedom, peace and justice that we have so long enjoyed and they have so long been denied.
Ms Harman: These are issues of great concern to Ministers in both the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office. I wholly agree with the hon. Gentlemans points about the African Union force and the no-fly zone, and of course it is important that pressure be kept up on the Sudanese Government.
May I take the opportunity to associate myself with the hon. Gentlemans remarks about you, Mr. Speaker, and to remind the House of what we all knowthat we, as Members of Parliament, choose the Speaker of this House? It is our choice, not that of the newspapers.
Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): When the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill comes to this House, will the Leader of the House ensure that there is a Committee of the whole House to consider significant issues relating to respect for human life? Will she follow the precedent of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990? On 23 and 24 April that year, the whole House considered embryo research and abortion.
Ms Harman: I will consider the hon. Gentlemans points about how we should handle the Bill at Committee stage. We will make an announcement in due course, following consultations across the House.
Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House and from all parts of the United Kingdom will welcome todays debate on Welsh affairs, coinciding with St. Davids day. Will the Leader of the House make similar provision for a debate on 23 April, to coincide with St. Georges day, so that we can debate affairs relating to England?
Ms Harman: I will consider that proposal.
John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): Will the Leader of the House find time to debate the genuine concerns of the south Asian community about two issues: the new immigration laws that are coming in, and the increasing burden on south Asian businesses, which affect a major part of the UK economy?
Ms Harman: I will bring those points to the attention of my right hon. Friends in the Home Office. I think we all want to be sure that those who migrate to this country continue to play their important part in local communities and in our economy, our services and the community life of this country, and that they can be joined by relatives. We also need to make absolutely sure that we have fair and firm rules to ensure that those who come here do so within the rules, and that those outside the rules are deported.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Would the Leader of the House, who I think has general overall responsibility for the recording and broadcasting of proceedings in the House, give us a debate on the BBCs use of proceedings, particularly those on the important questions relating to the Lisbon treaty? We pay some £3 billion a year in the taxpayers licence fee, and there are people outside this place who, apart from the parliamentary channel, simply do not hear what goes on here, irrespective of the differences between the political parties. The bottom line is that this is a matter of public policy under the charter. There was nothing on Yesterday in Parliament today with regard to the important issues of the supremacy of Parliament that were debated yesterday. That means effectively that people outside do not know what is going on in the House with respect to the vital matter of who governs them and how. Would the
Mr. Speaker: Order. I get the impression that the Leader of the House will be able to answer that question.
Ms Harman: I think that editorial decisions about news coverage of what goes on in the House are a matter for the broadcasters themselves. I think that we would all like more coverage of the House so that people outside can understand the work going on in Parliament, but in that respect, it is important for us to ensure that we debate things in a way that is not arcane and technical, but which not only contributes to the discussion but is understandable outside the House. I, for one, would suggest that we ban the word passerelles, but that is a personal view.
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