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to be fully debated in the House.[ Official Report, 6 March 2008; Vol. 472, c. 1929.]
Yesterday, the Chancellor delivered the Budget. Yet with accident and emergency departments and maternity services under threat and waiting times increasing, there was not a single reference to the national health service. Will the Leader of the House make a statement explaining why no Health Minister is leading any of the debates on the Budget, and why the Chancellor forgot to mention the NHS?
On Tuesday, it was announced that officials of the Crown Prosecution Service in Leeds had made up the results of court cases involving 12 defendants and 27 offences. They did not know the real sentences but they had to have something to put into their computer system, so they made it up. We are used to the Government losing data, but manipulating data and making them up has dangerous implications for individual citizens. Nineteen Eighty-Four was supposed to be a warning, not a model to be followed. The Justice Secretary has made a written statement, but may we have a debate on the issue?
This week, we found out that nine illegal immigrants were given free train tickets by the police and told to make their own way to a detention centre more than 60 miles away. Amazingly, none turned up. The Government go from the incompetent to the absurd. May we have a debate on their failure to manage deportation?
On Tuesday, the independent Anderson review of last years foot and mouth crisis, which was mentioned in Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, concluded that the Governments Pirbright laboratory responsible for the leak was shabby, dilapidated and badly regulated. Last years outbreak resulted in the loss of thousands of animals and financial loss to farmers. Now we know that Government incompetence was the cause. May we have a debate on the Anderson review?
Yesterdays Budget was supposed to be a green Budget, but perhaps the Chancellor should have told his Cabinet before telling the public what to do. We found out this week that the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families used a Government car to chauffeur him 450 yd down the road to a Labour party function. We found out yesterday that he does not seem to care that the public are suffering from the highest tax burden in our historya case of Do as I say, not as I do. Will the Secretary of State come to the House to make a statement on the example that he is setting the nations children?
Not only is Tony Blair running for EU president, but Peter Mandelson could stay on as EU Commissioner, so the old team of Blair and Mandelson are back in the saddle, this time running Europe. Tony Blair once said that the Labour party will have truly reformed only when it learns to love Peter Mandelson. Will the right hon. and learned Lady confirm that the British Government support that partnership?
The Government have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous: making up court sentences, telling migrants to deport themselves, and showing disdain for the tax burden that they have inflicted on the public. It is little wonder that people now say that it is time for a change.
Ms Harman: The right hon. Lady raised the important matter of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. As she reminded hon. Members, the Leader of the Opposition raised it yesterday with the Prime Minister, who reaffirmed that the Bill is an important Government measure. It offers the prospect of progress in combating devastating diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinsons, and of improving the treatment for people with life-devastating conditions resulting from spinal injury. As the Prime Minister told the House, the Bill was whipped as Government business in the House of Lords with, of course, free votes on amendments on abortion. The measure arouses strong views among those who are for it as well as those who are against it. We have to respect all those deeply held views and consider how best to ensure that we allow full time for debate in the House. The Bill is a Government Bill, but there are strong feelings in all parts of the House. I will be making announcements on how we will debate the issue in the House, and there will be discussions with all parties.
The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) talked about the NHS and said that the Chancellor had failed to mention it in his Budget speech yesterday. Perhaps she was not listening properly, because he said:
In 10 years, spending on health has almost doubled.[ Official Report, 12 March 2008; Vol. 473, c. 289.]
Ms Harman: So for the future, with a strong economy, a continued ability to invest in public services and a continued priority for public services, which was never shown under the previous Government, we will continue to ensure that our health services improve and that waiting times come down.
I can remember when people had to wait up to 24 hours in A and E at my local hospital, Kings College hospital. I can remember when people on waiting lists for cardiac surgery at Guys hospital died. I can remember a consultant surgeon showing me a waiting list for cardiac surgery on his wall, with names and addresses of my constituents, and saying, One third of them will die before they get to the operating theatre. That does not happen now, because of our investment, so I will take no lectures from the right hon. Lady about our commitment to the NHS.
The right hon. Lady also mentioned the failures in respect of the outcomes of cases in Leeds magistrates court being notified to the police. This is a very serious matter indeed. The Secretary of State for Justice has made a written ministerial statement and disciplinary action is being considered against those involved. Where there is a case, we must ensure not only that the police investigate it, that the prosecutors bring it to court and that the court secures a conviction against an offender, but that those data are entered into the system so that if the person reoffends, it can be known what they did previously and they can be dealt with and sentenced accordingly. We regard what has happened as a serious matter. It has been a failure and the Secretary of State will bring forward further information after the investigation concludes.
The right hon. Lady mentioned deportation and the Border and Immigration Agency. It is not true that the BIA advised the police to tell illegal immigrants in Cambridgeshire to make their own way to Croydon. With new biometric ID for foreign nationals in this country, which the Conservatives are not in favour of, we will be much more able to keep track of people who are in this country and be sure whether they are legally entitled to be here.
The right hon. Lady mentioned the British Commissioner to the European Commission. I understand that no
decision has been made as yet. When a decision is made, no doubt the House will be notified, but there is no further information that I can give her on that.
[ That this House deplores the incompetence and lack of concern of Manchester-based Adactus Housing Association which, informed on 15th January by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton of a life-threatening situation affecting a constituent of the right hon. Member, due to the negligence and lassitude of Adactus, and which led to that constituent having to leave his home for his safety, after two months and nine letters from the right hon. Member has still failed to solve the problem and at one time even offered that constituent £25-worth of B&Q vouchers as full compensation for his intolerable predicament; and calls on the Housing Corporation not only to intervene urgently to bring an immediate end to this totally unacceptable situation but to conduct an inquiry into publicly-funded Adactus and its publicly-funded staff. ]
It draws attention to the failure of Adactus housing association in Manchester, for two months, to solve a life-threatening situation affecting constituents of mine, for which it is entirely responsible and for which the only solution it has so far offered is £25 of B&Q vouchers. Will my right hon. Friend not only provide time for debate but ask the Minister for Housing to investigate the matter urgently?
Ms Harman: I shall do exactly what my right hon. Friend asks. I shall refer the matter to the Minister for Housing and ask her to look into it urgently. Adactus is a registered social landlord in receipt of public money, and its obligations are not only to its own tenants but to those in private housing nearby. If such people are affected badly by what has happened, Adactus should take responsibility.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I thank the Leader of the House for the announcement that there will be a debate next week on the UK and the Commonwealth. I hope that it will become an annual event. I am still waiting, however, for her to tell us when the debate that we have asked for on the new immigration rules will take place. May we debate the nonsensical procedure whereby the Government lay new rules as secondary legislation, with a start date only weeks away, which means that there is no opportunity to debate them before they come into operation? The pretence of parliamentary scrutiny is maintained, but in reality we have absolutely zero chance of influencing the Executive. Even if we vote against the secondary legislation, we do so retrospectively. That would clearly be nonsense even in Alice in Wonderland, let alone in the British House of Commons.
May we have a debate on the code of admissions for secondary schools in England? The Leader of the House will know that just over 50 per cent. of people in London are getting the school of their first preference. That is the case in her borough and mine. One in 10 families do not get any of the schools that they list as preferences. Is it not about time to review the old Greenwich formula and the rules in London, and to
examine the problem that has now arisen of people buying their way into secondary schools? That is clearly unacceptable, and I hope that the Government will want to close that loophole as soon as possible.
May we have a debate on Lord Goldsmiths citizenship review, which was published the other day? It refers to changing the law on treason, and from the general response it sounded as though Lord Goldsmith was likely to be the last candidate for hanging, drawing and quartering. However, there are serious proposals in the review, as there are in the Governments Home Office paper on citizenship. There are also serious concerns. For example, Commonwealth and Irish citizens who have been here for decades could lose rights, such as the right to vote, in the country that has become their home. May we have a full debate in Government time on that important matter? We have not had a proper debate on it for a long time.
Finally, later this year there will be the usual G8 meeting, which this time will be in Japan. I gather that Development Ministers will soon have a pre-meeting about how we are doing in meeting our millennium development goals, not least on combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, for which the figures are getting dramatically worse, not dramatically better. May we have an early debate on that matter, so that the Government can be clear about Parliaments opinion before Ministers go off and negotiate with their G8 colleagues?
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman mentioned the long-standing process by which the House deals with orders that are subject to a negative resolution. He said that the debate, and any action, comes retrospectively. That has always been the case, but I will look at himno, not at him, but at it. I see quite a lot of him already, as he is my constituency neighbour. I shall examine the matter, consider whether a change is needed and consult hon. Members.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the citizenship review, and I would like to thank Lord Goldsmith for his comprehensive and thought-provoking report. I especially welcome his focus on volunteering as part of peoples common bond and commitment to society. There are many sensible proposals there, which we will need to consider, discuss and take forward.
As I understand it, there is no suggestion that those who currently have the right to vote should lose that right. Indeed, our preoccupation is to ensure that all who are entitled to vote should be registered to vote, which many are not, and that those who are registered but do not vote should be encouraged to do so. It is the other way round from what the hon. Gentleman suggests.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the G8 meeting in Japan and the millennium development goals. I would ask him and the House to accept that, under this Government, our Ministers have led the way in making international development and tackling poverty in Africa an issue for all the wealthier countries of the world and have really put it at the centre of the international agenda. The prevention of HIV/AIDS and malaria are other issues that they have highlighted. We not only set up the Department for International Development, which did not exist before we came into government, but we doubled the aid budget and put the
issue on the international agenda, as I said. We had International Development questions and related topical questions yesterday, and there are Westminster Hall debates next week in which the hon. Gentleman may wish to discuss these issues further.
On school choice, it is important that all schools are good schools and that if preferences are being expressed, they should be expressed against that background. We have cut by half the number of failing schools, and an additional £200 million was announced yesterday to improve schools that should be doing better. We need a fair system of admissions. The current code recently put into effect must be complied with and the Secretary of State is on to it.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend is doing very well indeed [Interruption.] And I do not want to replace my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) as her Parliamentary Private Secretary!
Recognising the need to ensure public confidence in the way in which MPs can claim expenses, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the first report, which recommended reducing from £250 to £25 the sum for which receipts are necessary, is a welcome step in the right direction? Hopefully, further recommendations will restore public trust in the manner in which we carry out our work and claim public money.
Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. I think we all recognise that the announcements from Mr. Speaker are necessary to maintain public confidence, but that it is also important for MPs to be able to manage their offices in a sensible and proper way. As my hon. Friend said, further announcements will be made after the root and branch review, which is being led by Mr. Speaker and will be brought back before the House for discussion and decision in July.
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): Last week, the Leader of the House dismissed calls from many right hon. and hon. Members for a debate on the cuts in maternity services. May I reiterate that call, and at the same time ask for a debate on the cuts to acute general hospitals, such as the excellent Hemel Hempstead hospital, which is a modern acute general hospital where all acute services will close in October this year?
I think that the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) has given the House a completely wrong impression about health spending, including in his own constituency. Since 1997, the number of people waiting more than 26 weeks for in-patient treatment in NHS East of England has fallen from 31,000 down to 394. The hon. Gentleman may not be able to remember, because he was not a Member
then, but there were real problems in the health service when his party was in government. Of course there has to be discussion at local level about the configuration of services, but we need to take into account the fact that a reconfiguration of services is taking place against a background of increasing investment and improving outcomes. It is fair enough for the hon. Gentleman to champion the views of his constituents, but let us not misrepresent the situation, as he has done. [ Interruption.] Oh, sorry, that might have been unparliamentary. I should say, Let him not give the wrong impression.
Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab): I think we are all probably heartily sick of the press attention being given to our expenses, and particularly of the impression given in much of the media that all this money is for our own personal benefit. We all know it is not, and our staff allowances in particular are absolutely essential if we are to provide the proper service that our constituents look to us to provide. Will my right hon. and learned Friend please give me an update on exactly what is going to happen to our staffing allowances?
Ms Harman: Following a decision in the House on 24 January, Mr. Speaker is leading a root and branch review of allowances provided for MPs, staff and offices. I totally agree with my hon. Friends point. I think that everyone in the country would agree that legislation must be properly scrutinised and that it is important for the Government to be held to account by the House. That can be done best by MPs who have good staff and properly equipped offices. A strong Parliament is necessary for a strong democracy. Before the House decides the matter in July, I will issue a paper setting out why a strong House of Commons with properly resourced Members of Parliament is necessary for a strong democracy.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): I very much welcome the statement that the Leader of the House has just made. Last Thursday in her business statement, the right hon. and learned Lady announced that there would be a topical debate next Thursday. In her statement today, that topical debate has mysteriously disappeared. There is no topical debate today and there was no topical debate last week. When they started, we had one topical debate a week, but we are now down to one a month. Has March really been so uneventful that the Leader of the House cannot think of one single subject to bring to the House for a topical debate?
Ms Harman: We wanted to have an extensive debate on international womens day. We thought that the subject of women was topical on international womens day, so we rolled up the topical debate with the international womens day debate. Crowds of Members wanted to contribute to that debate, which was a very good one. That explains last week.
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