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27 Mar 2008 : Column 331

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Since the introduction of the congestion charge in London, I have noticed a significant increase in the number of pedal cyclists using the roads. Many of them unfortunately commit offences, such as going down one-way streets the wrong way, ignoring keep-left bollards and proceeding through red traffic lights. [Interruption.] May we have a debate next week on road safety for pedal cyclists?

Ms Harman: I will raise that point with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. Obviously, we want more people to use green methods of transport, such as public transport, buses, tubes, trains, walking and cycling, but we do not want cyclists to break the law and put other people at risk. I know that the issue has been treated as a bit of a laughing matter by some Opposition Members, but it puts pedestrians and other road users at risk when people think that there is one rule for them and another for everyone else. I am waiting for Opposition Members to agree with me on that point as well.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): May we have a debate in Government time on prison over-crowding and the effect on sentencing? The National Association of Probation Officers tells me that 80 per cent. of the 42 probation areas have reported great problems in providing the supervisory service that the courts require. It gives examples:

In some areas of south Wales staff have been told not actively to recommend supervision for foreign nationals, because they need interpreters, and they cost money.

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman may know that there has been a 67 per cent. increase in resources for the very important work of the probation service since we came into government. We want to see more coming out of that. The public are entitled to expect good supervision for those serving non-custodial sentences and we want to see less prison over-crowding and more people appropriately given non-custodial sentences. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman consider applying for an Adjournment debate to discuss the situation in Wales, which I know is of concern.

Helen Southworth (Warrington, South) (Lab): I also welcome the excellent report by Dr. Tanya Byron. In supporting the request for a debate, I would ask that we also consider the work carried out by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, and how we can co-ordinate our response to both the review and the centre.

Ms Harman: I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments on the report. She makes the important point that the Byron report offers an opportunity to bring together
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and learn from all the other good services that exist to help parents and the industry to make progress. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre is one example.

Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire) (Con): Will there be votes before the summer recess on the Baker report on pay and the Members Estimate Committee’s report on Members’ allowances?

Ms Harman: Yes, there will. The House resolved on 24 January to refer the question of setting Members’ pay—including a comparator and a mechanism so that we do not have to vote on our own pay—to Sir John Baker for a review. It also agreed that his review should report back with proposals for the House to vote on before it rises for the summer recess. At the same time, the House agreed that all the questions of allowances should be referred to the Members Estimate Committee, chaired by the Speaker, for a root and branch review. Proposals in that regard will also come back to the House to be voted on before the summer recess, so that the whole situation in relation to pay and allowances can be sorted out, the House can work properly, and the public can have confidence in the system.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): May we have an early debate on the standards of care in residential and nursing homes for elderly people? I understand that the Human Rights Act 1998, which already applies to local authority homes, will be extended to private homes if residents are sponsored by local authorities, and I welcome that. However, I still have deep and abiding concerns about neglect of the elderly in some of those establishments.

Ms Harman: I will draw the points that my hon. Friend makes to the attention of the relevant Secretaries of State. The work of the inspectorates is very important, and I will take up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice the point that my hon. Friend made about the extension of the Human Rights Act to services that are not provided directly by public authorities, but on their behalf.

Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Why is the Leader of the House bypassing Committees of this House, including the Justice Committee, the Public Administration Committee and the Lords Constitution Committee, by tabling a motion for a Joint Committee for pre-legislative scrutiny on the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill? Does she realise that that will lead to duplication of work for members of the Committee and for witnesses? Like other recent cases when Joint Committees have been set up without consultation, it has given rise to strong objections from other Committee Chairmen.

Ms Harman: There is certainly no intention to bypass any processes in this House; far from it. However, it is not unprecedented for the Government to propose to the House—I tabled such a proposal today—that there be a Joint Committee of both Houses to scrutinise important legislation. That is what we are proposing—subject to the consideration and agreement of this House—in respect of the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill. Much of the Justice
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Committee’s important work fed into that Bill, and I am sure that it and other Committees of the House will provide their own scrutiny and will contribute to the Bill.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Does my right hon. and learned Friend share my concern about the fact that clauses relating to prostitution were among the many clauses dumped from the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill while it was being considered in the other place? As she is aware, a team of Ministers is considering how the issue is dealt with in other countries. Will she ensure that when they report, an early opportunity is taken to legislate, including getting rid of fines for women in prostitution?

Ms Harman: I take my hon. Friend’s point seriously, and she has done as much work as anybody, if not more work than most, on tackling the problems of prostitution. Originally I greatly regretted the fact that the Government had had to withdraw the clauses on prostitution because of time constraints on the Bill, but on reflection it was no bad thing, because as my hon. Friend says, there is an ongoing review of prostitution, which will take six months. At the end of it, we can look again at the whole system for dealing with prostitution. I agree with her that women in prostitution are victims and should be protected, and it is the men who use and abuse prostitutes who should be treated as offenders. They are the problem, not women who are prostitutes.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform made an important speech yesterday advocating the opportunities for the United Kingdom nuclear industry that would result from an expanded number of nuclear power stations. Today, the Prime Minister and President Sarkozy are coming to some form of agreement about Britain and France and the future of our nuclear industry. Will the Leader of the House ensure that a statement is made to clarify the fact that any agreement reached between President Sarkozy and the Prime Minister will not in any way inhibit the opportunity for all players—including companies such as Toshiba Westinghouse, in my constituency—to offer solutions for the future of our nuclear power industry?

Ms Harman: It certainly will not be precluded in the way that the right hon. Gentleman fears that it will be. Obviously, there is a lot of discussion on the new generation of nuclear power to be had between us and other countries in Europe, particularly France, on issues such as tackling waste and dealing with technical skills. I hope that his fears will not be realised, but I will bring them to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to early-day motion 1113, in my name?

[That this House welcomes the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council recommendation of November 2007 that the prescribed disease chronic obstructive pulmonary disease be extended to include those exposed to coal dust during screen work on the colliery surface for a minimum period of 40 years to 1983; and calls on the Department of Work and Pensions to complete its
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assessment of the recommendation as soon as possible so that the few survivors who are eligible to claim an industrial injuries disablement benefit award can do so and discussions can begin with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform for a full and final compensation payment.]

The early-day motion draws attention to the fact that the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council recommended in November that the definition of the prescribed disease COPD be extended to cover a group of workers who worked on the colliery surface, with screens, for 40 years up to 1983. That decision has been with the Department for Work and Pensions for more than four months. Given that the group of workers concerned are very elderly, will she urge that a decision be made quickly, so that men who are eligible can claim industrial injuries disablement benefit, and can explore whether there is the possibility of reaching a full and final compensation settlement similar to that paid to their colleagues who worked underground?

Ms Harman: Thanks to my hon. Friend’s work and the work done by a number of other hon. Members, since this Government came to power we have had the biggest compensation programme in the world. However, he raises a further important point, and I will write to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to remind him that he needs to get on with making the decision, because the tragic truth is that time is not on the side of people who suffer from such terrible diseases.

Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): The Leader of the House will be aware that the laws on succession to the Crown discriminate on the grounds both of religion and of sex. I was disappointed that the Government did not take the opportunity offered by the Constitutional Renewal Bill to address that discrimination, which I am sure she will agree is unacceptable in modern society. May we have an early statement of the Government’s intentions on the matter?

Ms Harman: Unless it is outwith the scope of the Bill, perhaps the hon. Gentleman could propose an amendment on the subject; then the House could debate it.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): May I strongly endorse the point made by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), and urge the Leader of the House to reconsider the decision to refer the draft constitutional Bill to a Joint Committee?

On Monday we are to debate a Ways and Means resolution on the Housing and Regeneration Bill. The Leader of the House may know that it completed its Public Bill Committee stage eight weeks ago. The Department for Communities and Local Government waited until virtually the last day, and then tabled 37 pages of amendments. Will she ensure that when the Minister opens the debate on the Ways and Means resolution, he or she begins with a contrite apology to the House for that cavalier treatment?

Ms Harman: I think that the majority of the amendments are drafting amendments, tidying-up measures and responses to concerns raised in Committee. As for the time that elapsed before the Bill came back to the
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House, it is partly owing to the fact that we spent an awful lot of time discussing Europe in the meantime; it also afforded the opportunity to draft measures, which will come before the House. However, I take the point that hon. Members have made, and I will raise it with the Secretary of State concerned.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Last week the security forces in Northern Ireland were on high alert for a Real IRA offensive. At the same time, four BBC journalists were arrested in the presence of leading Real IRA activists on their way to a promotion of a show of strength. Given that the BBC is a publicly funded body, will the Leader of the House make time for a debate, so that the House can join the Chief Constable in expressing outrage at the BBC promoting terrorism at a time when we are trying to bury it in Northern Ireland, and at its pursuing sensational stories instead of pursuing stability in Northern Ireland?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman has made a heartfelt point, and although it is not for Ministers in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to make editorial decisions about the BBC, I will certainly raise his point with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who I am sure will share the hon. Gentleman’s views.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Might I suggest to the Leader of the House that we have a debate next week on the legislative process? That would enable many of us to suggest that the explanatory memoranda published should try to set out the reasons for a Bill and identify the problems that it is intended to address. At the moment, an explanatory memorandum simply spells out the detail of a Bill, and does not give people sufficient notice of why the Bill has been introduced in the first place.

Ms Harman: The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes a fair point, and we have tried to make progress in that respect. When we publish the Government’s draft legislative programme, we set out all the Bills that we propose to include in it, together with an explanation of the problem that the Bill is supposed to solve. We try to do that, and put Bills out for consultation, too. In addition, last week I put forward our proposals for post-legislative scrutiny, which would allow us to see whether legislation matches up with the intentions behind it. It is a reality check to see whether an Act has done what it was intended to do.

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): Guidelines from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs relating to tax credits, which I believe are a wrong interpretation of the law, imply that people whose annual return is sent in late have to pay back all their tax credit. May we have a debate on the merits of that rather silly rule, which means that if an annual return is lost in the post, people have to repay all their tax credits?

Ms Harman: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could apply for an Adjournment debate on that. I know that it is a subject of concern to many hon. Members.

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Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): As the Leader of the House seems to be in a responsive mood, may I refer her to next Monday’s business? The House faces the problem of considerable congestion, because the Housing and Regeneration Bill, with all those Government amendments—and Opposition amendments as well—is likely to take the whole day, yet we also have an important order on Northern Rock to debate. Will she reflect and come back to us to let us know how that can all be properly resolved?

Ms Harman: As I said, I have sympathy with the points raised on that matter. I also recognise that although the Government may say that the amendments are technical and drafting, until hon. Members have had time to read through them all and work out what they mean, they cannot necessarily be satisfied that that is the case. It is not desirable, obviously, for there to be large numbers of amendments, but as I have announced the business, and as we are tight for time, with a queue of important Bills awaiting Second Reading, I am not sure whether it will be possible to make extra time at this stage. I will consider it.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): May we have an early debate on the report published today by the Independent Asylum Commission, which concludes that our asylum system operates with a “culture of disbelief” and comes often to “perverse and unjust decisions”? If that is true of our system, that system has probably been shaped by the tenor of debate on the issue in recent years. A debate on the report would offer us an opportunity in the House to begin a new sort of debate on the subject of asylum, and perhaps give us a system that would no longer be described as a “blemish” on our international reputation.

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make those points at greater length on 22 April, when there will be a debate on the immigration rules. I note that the Independent Asylum Commission said that the system was “improved and improving”. Certainly, we would all agree that it needs to improve further.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): May I reiterate the request just made for a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House, not on immigration policy but on asylum policy? Even if the right hon. and learned Lady does not agree with the verdict of the Independent Asylum Commission that the Government’s current policy

does she at least accept that in respect of Sudan, Zimbabwe and Iran there is a growing body of evidence that people being returned to those places are at risk—because of their tribal allegiance, their political views or their sexual orientation—of imprisonment, torture, death, or a grisly combination of all three?

Ms Harman: I will look at the points that the hon. Gentleman raises and consider whether the best response from the Government is to give some time—but the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members could also raise those points in the April recess Adjournment debate next Thursday. That is one opportunity, but I will reflect on the hon. Gentleman’s points.

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