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David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health, may I ask the Leader of the House to provide time for a debate on the sale of tobacco products to under-age children, and on licensing measures to protect them? My noble Friend Lord Faulkner has tabled an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill requiring the
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Secretary of State for Justice to report to Parliament on the effectiveness of the existing measures to prevent under-age sales. A debate on a positive licensing system for tobacco retailers would be a step towards tackling our present difficulties.

Ms Harman: Important light has been shed on that matter, because national no smoking day has fallen during this week. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that he has led, which has fed into Government policy and is saving lives. I will bring his further points to the attention of Ministers.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Following on from what the Leader of the House just said about Mehdi Kazemi, may we have a debate on early-day motion 1180?

[That this House is concerned by the case of Iranian teenager Mehdi Kazemi who is currently living in Holland; notes reports that Mr Kazemi's boyfriend was forced by Iranian authorities to denounce other gay men, including Mr Kazemi himself; is appalled at reports that Mr Kazemi's boyfriend was then hanged for the offence of homosexuality; believes that Mr Kazemi's life is in serious danger if he were returned to Iran; further notes that the Dutch authorities have rejected Mr Kazemi's appeal for asylum in Holland and are likely to deport him to the UK; believes that the Home Office view that Iran is safe for homosexuals as long as they hide their sexuality is contrary to human rights standards on sexual freedom; and calls on the Government to uphold its asserted position as a supporter of human rights by refraining from sending Mr Kazemi back to Iran and near-certain human rights abuses.]

Last year, an Iranian MP told me that if gays practise in private, nobody knows, but that if they do not, they face torture. I reminded him that they face not torture but execution—perhaps with torture prior to that. Since the ayatollahs took control in Iran, more than 4,000 gay men and women have been executed, some of them publicly. Surely we are not even thinking of sending a gay Iranian back to Iran, where he would face humiliation, torture and execution?

Ms Harman: No one will be deported to face execution or violation of their human rights. Such matters are addressed on a case-by-case basis taking account of the individual concerned and the circumstances in their country of origin.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Two weeks ago, I asked my right hon. and learned Friend for a debate on school admissions, and I therefore support the call made by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). Last week, the allocation letters were sent out to parents, and a large proportion of them got their first choices. This week, however, the Secretary of State issued a written statement documenting some abuses of the new code of admissions by individual schools. Does my right hon. and learned Friend therefore agree that that would be an ideal topic for a topical debate?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend will have an opportunity to ask a topical question on Monday, when school admissions can be raised with the Department for Children,
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Schools and Families ministerial team. We must ensure that the new processes governing fair admissions are effectively enforced.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): May we have an urgent debate on the future of medical general practice? Private sector polyclinics may or may not be right for urban areas, but they are certainly no substitute for an NHS general practice clinic in rural areas such as mine.

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to put that point in topical questions during oral questions to the Department of Health ministerial team on Tuesday. There is no suggestion that polyclinics provide a one-size-fits-all solution. They arose as a response to concerns about how to improve primary care in London, and they will certainly not be imposed unilaterally without local support.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Turning to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, and bearing in mind that the Leader of the House and I have been veterans of much similar legislation over the years and that we have usually been on the same side of the argument, may I put it to her that it is in the interests of this House that when there are issues of conscience, as there are in respect of this proposed legislation, there should be free votes on both sides? The Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats are having a free vote; why are the Government party not doing so?

Ms Harman: It is for each party to decide their whipping arrangements—and, indeed, whether there will be whipping. I should also say that strong beliefs and conscience are not the sole preserves of those whose views are rooted in religious concerns; I have strongly held views, as does the right hon. Gentleman. We must take all these issues into account, and ensure we make progress on this important Government Bill.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): In response to representations on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill from many Members over a period of several weeks, the right hon. and learned Lady has indicated a willingness to be flexible on time allocation; that is moderately welcome although decidedly unspecific, and greater specificity soon would be appreciated. As there is a principle that we should have plenty of time to debate controversial matters, may I invite the right hon. and learned Lady to make a statement next week informing the House when we will address the much delayed Counter-Terrorism Bill, and to confirm that there will be generous consideration of its more controversial provisions in a Committee of the whole House?

Ms Harman: We might well have got on to the Counter-Terrorism Bill—and, indeed, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill—sooner had we not been having hours and hours of debate over weeks and weeks on Europe. [Interruption.]

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Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the Leader of the House speak. [Interruption.] Well, she is entitled to criticise herself, if that is what she is doing.

Ms Harman: I am sorry, Mr. Speaker; it was a big error even to mention Europe, and I will be grateful if Members ignore the fact that I did so. Many Members mentioned the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill not only last week, but this week as well, and I reassure the House that it has certainly registered higher on the Richter scale as a result of their mentioning it.

Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con): Somerset county council has recently signed up to an organisation called Southwest One, along with Taunton Deane borough council. It has cost us in Somerset £400 million, with IBM as the lead contractor, but Avon and Somerset police have had to be bribed to join because nobody else wants to do so. That is a colossal waste of public money, which will be a long-term problem for the taxpayers of Somerset. It is being led with no consultation with local people or with other councils. How will it work? May we have a debate on how such organisations can make any sense at all?

Ms Harman: I am not entirely clear about the hon. Gentleman’s point, but he clearly regards it as very important to his constituents and his region. I ask him to pop in to see me after questions to explain it, so we can work out what needs to be done about it.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Last weekend in my constituency, I visited pensioners living in council accommodation who have switched off their heat supply because they depend on liquefied petroleum gas, which is much more expensive than mains gas. Will the Leader of the House ensure that a Minister comes to the Dispatch Box to make a statement on fuel poverty and the Government’s failure to reach their targets, so that Members can raise the specific issue of those households that depend on LPG and heating oil for their heating?

Ms Harman: Fuel poverty and insulation are important priorities for the Government. We are concerned that the least well-off who use meters have been paying a higher amount per unit for their fuel and heating, and we will sort that out. In the Budget, we have increased the winter fuel payments by £50 for those over 60 and £100 for those over 80. We are also stepping up our insulation programmes. I welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point, and I will bring it to the attention of my hon. Friends.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): May we have a debate on fairness in parking charges? As a result of a freedom of information request by the Peterborough Evening Telegraph this week, we learned that 1,436 penalty charge notices to non-UK registered vehicles have been written off, which is more than 80 per cent. of the total. By contrast, 63 per cent. of UK-registered vehicles’ penalty charges have been paid. This is evidently an example of great unfairness, and my constituents are right to raise the issue with me. When can we regularise that situation and have fairness in the payment of parking tickets?

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Ms Harman: I will bring that to the attention of my hon. Friends in the relevant Departments.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Today is world kidney day, and the Northamptonshire Kidney Patients Association is supporting it with a display stand in the Newlands centre in Kettering to promote public awareness of renal failure and of the groups of people who are most at risk. While applauding the association for its endeavours, will the Leader of the House also arrange for the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement to the House about what is being done to promote renal treatment in this country?

Ms Harman: I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to write to the hon. Gentleman, and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the kidney patients association that covers my constituency in south London.

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Points of Order

12.30 pm

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the House mentioned Europe a few moments ago. You will recall that we spent a number of days considering the Lisbon treaty, which is designed to steal from this House and the people whom we represent many of our cherished freedoms and rights. I seek your guidance, because in doing so much of the treaty was not considered, many amendments were not reached and the line-by-line scrutiny that we usually enjoy in Committee did not take place. Given that the British people are to be denied the referendum that they were promised and now crave, how can that be put right and how can we avoid repetition of such a parody of parliamentary scrutiny?

Mr. Speaker: That is definitely not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance on an issue very important to my constituents. On Tuesday, during Justice questions, I raised the fact that an organisation called ClearSprings is creating open prisons across Basildon district by buying residential properties and converting them. The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), responded by saying that Basildon district council had failed to use its veto. I have subsequently been assured by the council that that is not the case, that it made clear its universal opposition in writing at the earliest possible moment and that it was told that the Ministry of Justice would ignore that anyway. The Minister of State appears inadvertently to have misled the House, and I seek your advice—

Mr. Speaker: Order. When such a matter comes up during a debate, it is open to any hon. Member to go back to his or her local authority and get the facts. The hon. Gentleman can pursue that matter by going to the Table Office and seeking to put down questions, now that he has extra facts. It is not for me to be drawn into this argument.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is definitely one for you, Sir. At column 299 of yesterday’s Hansard, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families made a sedentary intervention, allegedly saying, “So weak!” Apart from the fact that he is out on his own in thinking that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was making a weak speech, a large number of people on this side and in the Gallery—journalists—heard him say “So what?” There is a site called YouTube on the net, Mr. Speaker, and you can listen to the video. I reckon that I can hear “what” being said. Could you arrange for the editor of the Official Report to tell the House whether, or to make a statement as to whether, the Secretary of State or anybody on his behalf approached Hansard to have it doctored?

Mr. Speaker: I have checked with the Officers of the House and they tell me that they are satisfied—more important still, the editor of Hansard is satisfied—that it is a correct record of yesterday’s proceedings.

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Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your advice. During business questions, the Leader of the House accused me and smeared me by saying that I had misled the House in a statement that I had made. This is a smear on my character, and I ask for it to be withdrawn.

Mr. Speaker: I think that the Leader of the House said that it was a misleading picture that the hon. Gentleman— [ Interruption. ] He is saying no, but my hearing is excellent—I can assure you of that—and it was a “misleading picture”. That is different from saying that the hon. Gentleman was misleading the House. Perhaps now he can go up to the Gallery and see the draft record; that would be helpful to him.

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Orders of the Day

Ways and Means

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [12 March].

Amendment of the law

Motion made, and Question proposed,

Question again proposed,

Mr. Speaker: I call Chris Grayling. [ Interruption. ] It is Mr. George Osborne.

Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

12.33 pm

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con): It is good to open this debate and it is a pleasure to do so, as is traditional, on the first full day of the Budget debate. May I say how happy we are that we have been joined by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions? He is one of a number of young Turks angling to deliver next year’s Budget, so we will see how he does today. It is good that he has been supported by so many members of the Labour party who have come to back up the Chancellor’s Budget just 24 hours after it was delivered.

It is indeed 24 hours since the Budget, and now the whole House has had an opportunity to examine not what the Chancellor said yesterday, but what he actually did in the Budget: to examine how, for example, the tax on so-called gas guzzlers is going to hit 70 per cent. of all cars sold; to understand how the tax on so-called binge drinking will hit 43 million drinkers; to get some explanation for how a Budget that was supposed to help business and enterprise actually has, according to the Red Book, £1.7 billion of new taxes on business; and to expose how a Labour Government whose sole claim to office was their ability to manage the economy have managed to leave Britain so ill prepared for the economic slow-down.

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