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This week, we have had the Budget, and many hon. Members thought that it was topical and did not want to cut into that debate by having another topical debate. We have deemed the Budget to be topical this week,
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which is why there is no topical debate today. As for next week, we have had a number of representations—not least from the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), among others—to have a debate on the Commonwealth. Next Thursday provides an opportunity for a debate on the UK and the Commonwealth, so we have deemed that to be the topical subject for next week.

We are going to review the matter of topical debates. We have no axe to grind; this is Government time, and we want to allot Government time to enable the House to debate what is topical. As I say, we are reviewing the matter, and if anyone wants to make representations, will they please do so?

In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner), I should add that a letter is being sent by the finance and administration department, reminding Members that the resolution passed on 24 January—that we should accept the Senior Salaries Review Body report, recommending a move from 3 to 3.5 staff—will be implemented and will come into force by 1 April.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend may recall that we used to have an annual debate on the Floor of the House about the budget for the Metropolitan police. Given the national importance of the Metropolitan police, will she consider arranging an urgent debate on the Floor of the House, particularly in the light of the threats made to its budget by the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) in the mayoral election campaign? Perhaps he will actually turn up for that debate in relation to London.

Ms Harman: I accept my hon. Friend’s suggestion that we should have a topical debate on policing in London. Those of us who are London Members have campaigned long and hard to improve policing in London and the provision of police community support officers. Does he remember the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), who represents a constituency in Oxfordshire, joining the campaigns for more police and police community support officers in London? He was nowhere to be seen. Lately, he has joined in—and his contribution to the debate is to say that there is “too much spending”. My hon. Friend’s suggestion may well be topical, and I will add it to the list.

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): May we have a debate, finally, on Heathrow expansion? According to reports in the Sunday newspapers, the Environment Agency says that the expansion could lead to increased morbidity and mortality rates around the airport. Papers that I have obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show possible collusion between BAA and the Department for Transport. Is it not time that the Secretary of State for Transport had the guts to come to the Chamber and debate the matter with Members of the House?

Ms Harman: The accusations of collusion are utter nonsense. The Government’s position is to support a third runway at Heathrow in principle, provided that strict local environmental and noise conditions are met. If the hon. Lady was at Environment, Food and Rural
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Affairs questions half an hour or so ago, she will have heard the issue being raised and the House being reminded that all decisions on adding capacity at Heathrow will be taken independently by BAA.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): May we have a debate on transport in London, to allow us to consider the improvements in buses, the modernisation of the tube, the threat to the freedom pass that still comes from some London boroughs, and the threat from the buffoon from Oxfordshire to the improvements made in London’s transport over the past eight years.

Ms Harman: I agree with my hon. Friend that one of the reasons why London has taken such strides forward is the improved transport infrastructure—not just buses, but the tube. The hon. Member for Henley, who represents a seat in Oxfordshire, did not turn up to vote on Crossrail, so it is no wonder that he does not understand the figures, and that his proposals for London transport are short of the required funding by £100 million.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): Will the Leader of the House tell us how likely it is that we will have a statement next week on the future role of the Attorney-General? That would allow us not only to clear up the general issue, with stories circulating about the Government offering extra powers to direct prosecutions to the Law Officers, as well as specific cases such as the Serbian utilities fraud case, in which it appears that the Law Officers are yet again sitting on a foreign corruption investigation.

Ms Harman: In “The Governance of Britain”, the Prime Minister said that the role of the Law Officers is one of the constitutional issues on which he wants us to consider proposals for change. Discussion is under way, and a constitutional reform Bill will come out in draft. If legislative proposals arise out of the discussions on the Law Officers, those can be contained in that Bill. If the hon. Gentleman and other Members want to make proposals about how the Law Officers should operate, they should direct their suggestions to the Secretary of State for Justice— [Interruption.] I am glad that he has already done so.

John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a debate in Government time on the ring-fencing of moneys sent to devolved areas? It has been brought to my attention by many groups that money, such as that for disabled children, is not getting to those for whom it is intended, and is falling into the current Administration’s black holes. Such minority groups cannot speak up for themselves in numbers in the way in which the devolved Governments do.

Ms Harman: I will consider my hon. Friend’s proposal. As a Government, we regarded it as important to get to all parts of the United Kingdom sufficient public investment, so that all those with particular needs had those needs met by the public authorities. Obviously, it is of great concern indeed if those for whom resources are supposed to be made available do not get them, perhaps because the matter is not being handled properly. We must make sure that the money actually gets to the most vulnerable, as everyone in the country agrees that it should.


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Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The 57th seminar on parliamentary practice and procedures at Westminster, organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK branch, ends tomorrow. It has been an outstanding success and the Speaker himself has contributed to that success. I fully support the announcement by the Leader of the House of a debate on the UK and the Commonwealth, but why, after all this time and many requests from both sides of the House, has she not found time for a debate on Zimbabwe, where elections will occur in the near future? The future of that country, and its prosperity and peace, depends on the outcome of those elections.

Ms Harman: It is not for me—it is for the Speaker—to decide what will be in order within that debate, but it may be possible to raise those points in the debate on the Commonwealth on Thursday. I pay tribute to the CPA UK branch and to all hon. Members who participate in that important work. We will keep the matters raised at the forefront of our minds.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): May we have a debate on the future economy of the highlands and islands? My right hon. and learned Friend may be aware that the Convention of the Highlands and Islands met for years even before devolution, but I have been informed by the local MSP, David Stewart, that UK Ministers will no longer be welcome at that convention. That decision was taken by the minority-led Scottish National party Administration. Will she therefore raise the matter with the appropriate UK Minister, to make sure that the highlands and islands do not become a plaything of the SNP?

Ms Harman: I will certainly raise the matter, as will people in the communities of the highlands and islands, who know that questions of tax policy, benefits policy and energy policy are all crucial. Highlands and islands people want to have a say, so UK Ministers need to be involved. It is disappointing and disreputable if politics is played with devolution, instead of local people in the highlands and islands being allowed to have a proper say in decisions that will affect them.

Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): May I press the Leader of the House on when we can expect a Second Reading debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill? Will she bear in mind that the Joint Committee report on which the Prime Minister relied so heavily yesterday recommends free votes on both the use of hybrid embryos and the so-called “need for a father” provision?

Ms Harman: I recognise that there has been a great deal of debate and discussion within the Select Committee system, as has been acknowledged in the House of Lords. The points raised by the hon. Gentleman will no doubt be raised when the Bill comes to this House for scrutiny.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Am I the only person to be concerned about the fact that the royal courts of justice are being hired out to commercial organisations for after-hours parties and other corporate functions? I wonder what the judges, who
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may be burning the midnight oil working on judgments, think about that. May I invite the Leader of the House to bring the Secretary of State for Justice to the House to explain the policy on hiring our courts to commercial organisations?

Ms Harman: I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice to write to my hon. Friend informing him of the position, but I am sure that, whatever is happening, parties are not being held in the judges’ corridor.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): On far too many occasions when the Prime Minister is at the Dispatch Box, he finds it necessary to express condolences on the death of another British man or woman serving overseas. He says that a debt of gratitude is owed to those people and their families, but unfortunately that debt does not yet translate itself into funding for families’ legal representation at inquests.

The Ministry of Justice continues to say that inquests are not trials and that therefore no legal representation is necessary, but this week the Department told me in a written answer that so far it had spent more than £1.5 million of taxpayers’ money defending its own backside at inquests, while the families must grovel for legal aid which very few of them receive. May we have a debate on the Floor of the House—not in Westminster Hall—so that we can discuss the Government’s failure to implement the spirit of the undertaking given by Prime Minister Blair in December 2006?

Ms Harman: I sympathise with the spirit of what the hon. Gentleman has said. We are all aware that if someone appears before a criminal court, not only the prosecution but the defence is legally represented, and if someone is brought before a civil court, not only is the claimant represented but the defendant can access legal aid. However, owing to the unique and ancient structure of the coroners’ courts and their inquisitorial basis, they have been within the purview of legal aid only on exceptional occasions.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that if bereaved relatives with no legal representation turn up on the steps of a coroner’s court and find that the Ministry of Defence and the Army have a great battery of solicitors and QCs, they cannot help but feel that the position is unfair. The MOD is very concerned about the issue, which will be considered during debate on the Coroners Bill. We need to give bereaved relatives at inquests a real sense of fairness and support.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of an excellent report produced by the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the use of restraint on children, and of a campaign launched by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, INQUEST and others on the same subject? May we have a debate on the terrible use of techniques that deliberately inflict pain on children in secure accommodation throughout the country?

Ms Harman: Ministers in the Ministry of Justice are considering the law and practice relating to restraint, particularly as it applies to children. A case in my hon.
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Friend’s constituency and the findings reported by the coroner have highlighted the issue, and the Ministers will doubtless report to the House when their consideration is completed.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): What is it going to take to get the Secretary of State for Transport to come to the House and make a statement about the situation in the Maritime and Coastguard Agency? Last week the coastguards, who constitute an emergency service, went on strike. There was no statement in the House, and the Secretary of State did not even issue a press release. Would the Leader of the House tolerate such ministerial indifference if this were one of the emergency services—the fire brigades, the police or the ambulance service—that serve her constituents?

Ms Harman: I know that the hon. Gentleman raised the issue yesterday during Prime Minister’s questions. We all agree that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency provides very important services, not only in saving lives but in protecting the environment. This is a matter of concern, which is why the agency has implemented contingency plans to prevent any threat to shipping or life during the strike.

We hope that this dispute will be settled, but I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to consider whether she needs to give the House further information, and how such information should be provided.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): May we have a debate or a statement on the Government’s policy on removal of individuals to Iran, following the case of Mehdi Kazemi? He was refused asylum in this country; his application for asylum has now been refused in Holland, and he says that he will go to his death because of his sexual orientation. Surely discretion should be exercised in such cases. May we have a debate on such issues, which directly affect the lives of individuals?

Ms Harman: My right hon. Friend is, of course, Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. It is possible for him and other hon. Members to make representations on that or any other individual case, but meanwhile he should be assured of our total opposition to the death penalty in any country in the world. We are in favour of the full human rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation. No doubt the case that he has raised will be examined carefully in the light of representations and evidence.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): May I echo the call from my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) for a debate on Heathrow in Government time? Serious allegations were made in The Sunday Times about collusion with Department for Transport officials and, possibly, Ministers. If the Leader of the House is so confident that they are rubbish, is it not about time that the Secretary of State for Transport came to the House and we were allowed a proper debate, or even an oral statement? So far we have had nothing.

Will the Leader of the House also confirm what I think she said a few moments ago—that the responses will be examined independently by BAA?


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Ms Harman: I can save my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the necessity of coming to the House by reaffirming to the hon. Gentleman that the accusations of collusion are utter nonsense, and that that is the Government’s position.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): It is estimated that musculoskeletal problems cost the economy some £12 billion a year in lost working days, national health service treatment and benefit payments. GPs typically prescribe bed rest and painkillers when osteopathic treatment and diagnosis might be more helpful, and, indeed, could make a great contribution to solving the problems. Sadly, however, osteopathy is generally available only to those who can pay. Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider allowing a debate on what osteopathy can do for patients, and how it can be provided more generally in the NHS?

Ms Harman: I will bring my hon. Friend’s question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, but he may wish to seek a debate in Westminster Hall.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Last week the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), attacked that wonderful British institution, the last night of the proms, on the grounds that it did not make everyone feel at ease. I have received many letters from constituents who enjoyed the BBC’s presentation of the event last year in Carrickfergus in my constituency, when people from all walks of life and of all ages experienced a magnificent night against the background of Carrickfergus castle. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate so that the Minister can explain her remarks, which seem to be at variance with the views of the Prime Minister, the House and millions of people?

Ms Harman rose—

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. Before the Leader of the House responds, I should point out that a number of Members wish to ask questions, and I can only allow them to do so if they ask brief questions rather than making speeches.

Ms Harman: I shall try to make my answer very brief, Mr. Speaker.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State answered questions on this issue in the House on Monday. On the previous Thursday, I paid tribute to the last night of the proms in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and in Hyde park. We all agree that all our great cultural institutions are important, but that they should work together to ensure that they become more inclusive.


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