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I will bring the points that the hon. Gentleman makes to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I
know that employment is an extremely important issue in Northern Ireland. There has been a great increase in jobs and a fall in unemployment. None the less, the hon. Gentlemans points about fraud and employment levels are important, and I will make sure that my right hon. Friend writes to him.
Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): I could never be accused of being a sook or a sycophant, or of ever asking a planted question, but on this occasion I want to put on record the sterling performance that my right hon. and learned Friend gave yesterday at the Dispatch Box. Does she share my concern that the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has refused to reclassify cannabis? As a former psychiatric nurse I have seen the ravages that that drug can cause. It should be reclassified, and people should be made aware of its harmful effects on mental health and family stability.
Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for her comments about yesterday. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred the reclassification of cannabis to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and we have yet to receive its advice. Irrespective of classification, we are all clear that cannabis remains illegal, that there is new evidence of the dangers that it poses because a much stronger version of cannabis is being used, and that there is new evidence of the risk of psychosis caused by cannabis, which the Maudsley hospital in my constituency has been keen to point out. We await the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): The Leader of the House has announced that there will be a debate on the points-based immigration system. She will be aware that earlier this week the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee produced a report which, in effect, demolished the economic rationale of the Governments policy. Will she request the Home Secretary or the Minister who replies to that debate to come equipped with an answer, or attempted answer, to the detailed and lengthy inquiry conducted by the House of Lords, rather than the arrogant out-of-hand dismissal that we saw from the Prime Minister this week?
Ms Harman: The House of Lords Committee makes a number of recommendations, most of which are accepted by the Government and are already being acted on. We can all recognise and pay tribute to the work of hard-working migrants who come to the United Kingdom and work in our businesses and public services. We want to make sure that we restrict unskilled migrants coming to this country. That is what the points-based system, which to be debated in the House in the coming weeks, is designed to do. The Conservative policy does not have a shred of credibility. The Opposition say they want a cap on migration, but they will not say what the level of the cap would be. They say they want to help businesses, but they would deny them the skilled workers who are needed. They say they want to help the economy, but they reject the proposals that we are bringing forward to help British people obtain the skills that businesses and services in this country need.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider an urgent debate, when the House returns, on greed in the financial services sector? Many of my constituents want to know why unscrupulous people were put on bonuses of 60 to 100 times their annual income to sell products to people who patently could not afford to buy them. All that, across the world and especially in Britain, has undermined the banking and financial services sector. May we have a debate on that so that we can clear the air and find out who was guilty of such malpractice?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend raises an important point, which touches on a number of issues. It is totally unacceptable for employees to get big bonuses unconnected to their performance in the company, or even in spite of disastrous performance in the company. People think that is very unfair. That is why the Government have introduced measures to ensure that there is transparency and shareholders can see what remuneration committees are deciding about the awarding of bonuses. It is also why new proposals will be introduced so that companies will have to report on the relationship between the bonuses being offered to those at the very top of the company and the remuneration of all the other workers in the company.
Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con): May we have another debate in Government time on tuberculosis? The rise in TB in my constituency in the time for which I have been MP, which is only since 2001, has been relentless. It has crossed Exmoor and is in the Somerset levels. Last week it got into areas that have not seen TB for more than 60 years, and it is costing the country billions every year. It has still not been decided what we are going to do about the situation. May we therefore have a formal debate on the matter?
Ms Harman: I think the hon. Gentleman is referring to bovine TB. That is a matter of concern to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and I know that the hon. Gentleman has raised it on a number of occasions. He knows that the Department is keen to support farming and the dairy industry. How the disease is dealt with is a scientific question, but I will make sure that his concern about what is happening in his constituency is brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a debate on the democratic accountability of local authorities? Yesterday, East Riding of Yorkshire council, which has a large Tory majority, voted to support proposals to cut fire services in Goole in my constituency. Goole is a Tory-free zone, with no Tory representatives at town and district council or parliamentary level, but, despite strong local views, the views of local representatives and of meand, in fairness, of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis)it is proposed that those cuts go ahead. Can we ensure that local authorities accurately reflect the views of the communities that they are supposed to serve?
There is no excuse for East Riding council to cut fire services. My hon. Friend knows that there has been a big increase in local authority fundinga
45 per cent. real-terms increase in the last 10 yearsand I am sure that he will raise the matter with the relevant Secretary of State.
Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): Will the Leader of the House give time for a debate on the number of illegal, unroadworthy cars being allowed into our country, ostensibly from eastern Europe? What checks are being done at our borders to prevent such cars from going on to our roads? Such cars are causing many accidents and many fatalities. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House would like a debate on the subject.
Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend give time for an early debate on the subject matter of early-day motion 1205, which relates to the prevention of forced marriages?
[ That this House wishes to put on record its appreciation of the work of Philip Balmforth in protecting thousands of vulnerable girls in the Bradford district; further wishes to commend West Yorkshire Police and Bradford social services for having the foresight to engage Philip 12 years ago, thus enabling him to give so many young women the right to choose whom and when to marry; and believes that these young women have good reason to thank Mr Balmforth and hope that he will have many more years serving their community in his own unassuming and courteous way. ]
The early-day motion, which was tabled on 18 March, has attracted 65 signatures from Members of all parties. Philip Balmforth faces a disciplinary hearing next week, brought about by complaints made to West Yorkshire police by Bradford council for obscure reasons that I do not understand.
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend has done more than anybody in the House to bring to the attention of the general public the outrageous problem of forced marriages. The Government have acted on many of her suggestions, and I will raise with the Home Secretary the points that my hon. Friend has raised today. Home Office Question Time takes place on the Monday after the recess. I suggest that she try to catch the eye of Mr. Speaker and raise the matter with the Home Secretary at that point.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Will the Leader of the House show support for the House by recognising that programme motions on consideration of the remaining stages of major Bills are preventing the House from doing the job that it is here to dothat is, scrutinise legislation? The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) highlighted the number of amendmentsOpposition and Governmentthat were not debated but should have been. Will she find time for a debate on that subject?
Quickly, on another matter, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on Zimbabwe when the situation in that country has been clarified following the elections? That would enable those of us who are interested
to indicate what we believe this country should do to help the people of Zimbabwe, who have suffered so much under Mr. Mugabe.
Once again, the hon. Gentleman raises the question of Zimbabwe, which he has raised in the House over weeks, months and, indeed, years. I know that it is of major concern to him, as it is to all hon. Members. He will know that a statement on Zimbabwe was made yesterday. The situation will be kept under careful review.
We all feel that if there is to be a second stage election, there must be proper election monitoring. We need a proper free press to report the second stage of elections, which was denied in the first round. A telling sign will be the BBC being able to report from that country once again, instead of having to report from neighbouring countries or under cover from within Zimbabwe.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): Can we have a debate on health and safety in the workplace? My right hon. and learned Friend may be aware of a recent debate on Iraq in which Members on both sides of the House raised the question of the untimely deaths of 170 of our service personnel. Over the same period, double that number of workers in the construction industry have lost their lives. Therefore, will she assure the House that every British workers life is important? Can we have an inquiry or a debate on why so many people are losing their lives in the construction industry?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point; he has raised the question of health and safety for people at work on numerous occasions. He knows that, as a result of his work and that of other hon. Members, there is particular work going on between the Department for Work and Pensions and the construction industry to ensure that we cut the appalling toll of death and injury at work.
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): Through my office, Senator Stuart Syvret of the States of Jersey has raised with the new Lord Chancellor the question of the rule of law in Jersey. Can we have a debate on the rule of law? We need to look at three issues in particularCrown dependencies; the use of section 54(4) of the Access to Justice Act 1999, which can prevent cases from going to the House of Lords; and access for the parties to recordings of proceedings in secret courts.
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman raises a number of important and complex interconnected points. I suggest that he seek a meeting with the Solicitor-General to see how those matters could be taken forward.
In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan), I should have mentioned that the DWP is meeting not just the construction industry, but, of course, the construction unions.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. and learned Friend keep a weather eye on the publication in the autumn of the final Competition Commission report on supermarkets? That is likely to be a major report, and it would be helpful if we got time in the House to debate the implications of the power of supermarkets, with particular regard to out-of-town shopping, land banks and the supply chain. It is only right and proper that we know what that report has to say and that we have our view on how we best represent our constituents.
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend raises an important point. This is a question of town centres and the rights of consumers. It is also an important issue for local food suppliers, which I know he is concerned about. Perhaps I will invite him to suggest this as a subject for topical debate when the report is published.
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): Can the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to make a statement when we return from the recess on how effectively he believes the Post Office is providing Crown post office services to those areas where the Crown post offices have been closed and moved to the first floor of WH Smith?
In particular, will the Secretary of State be able to comment on the situation with the Crown post office in Chelmsford, about which many constituents are complaining? The access to it by the bus stops involves going down four steep steps, which is impossible if people are in wheelchairs, are frail or have mobility problems. The walk round to the other entrance is too far. There is only one escalator, which goes up but not down.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a topical debate on affordable and social housing, so that we can urgently consider the impact of policies that advocate that we should abandon the 50 per cent. rule in relation to new developments and that people require an income of £75,000 to qualify for an affordable assisted purchase, as proposed by the Conservative party in the London elections?
Ms Harman: I recognise the point that my hon. Friend makes. As a champion of his constituents, he knows that the question of lack of affordable housing is very important indeed. One thing that Londons Mayor, Ken Livingstone, has done is increase the amount of affordable housing in London. He has pledged to increase it even furtherby an extra 50,000 new affordable homes. One choice that people face in the London mayoral election is whether to have more affordable housing, better transport and more policing.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con):
Further to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), surely the House deserves a particular opportunity to debate the
House of Lords report The Economic Impact of Immigration, which I remind the Leader of the House said that there was little or no economic benefit to Britain from the present high levels of immigration. I know that it is considered vulgar to debate these issues in the bourgeois liberal circles of the right hon. and learned Lady where it is all fettuccine and feminism, but out there in the real world our constituents know that high levels of immigration put unsustainable pressure on our infrastructure, are the biggest single driver of housing demand and damage social cohesion. Now we also know that the Governments claims are based on worthless assumptions and disingenuous assertions, so we need an urgent debate.
Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): May we have a debate on the implementation by local authorities of the new Government travel concession for pensioners and disabled people? Despite pensioners in Milton Keynes applying well in advance for their new passes, the Liberal Democrat-controlled Milton Keynes council deliberately delayed sending out the passes and then sent them out by second-class post, and as a result, a great many of my constituents are not able to enjoy the concession that they should have been able to from the beginning of this week. May we have a debate to reveal whether this is an isolated incident of incompetence, or a pattern across the board of Liberal Democrat-controlled councils?
Ms Harman: Milton Keynes council should get on with it. Councils should not have to be dragged kicking and screaming to ensure that pensioners get their rights to travel. We first introduced this concession in 2000 when we required councils to make half price fares for pensioners and disabled peoplethat was a struggle, but at least it was brought in. We then required councils to ensure that within their own area all disabled people and people over 60 should have free bus passes, and we now require them to ensure that not only in their own area but in any area pensioners and disabled people can have free travel. This is important. People should be able to get out and about, and public authorities should be seizing this opportunity not dragging their heels.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): In my constituency, 14 post offices are due for closure, of which eight will be offered outreach facilities, most of which will be mobile services, yet the people living in those communities, particularly in Llanwrtyd Wells, would prefer a hosted service in a shop, community centre or pub. When I asked the Post Office about this it said that the model shows that a mobile service would be better for the community. Can the Leader of the House assure me that that model will be made available to Members and placed in the Library of the House so that we can test it during the consultation period?
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con):
I support everything that has already been said about the shambles on Monday with the Housing and Regeneration Bill, but what has happened to the Planning Bill, which
completed its Public Bill stage on 5 February and has sunk without trace? As the Government assert that that will speed up the planning system, is it not counter-productive for the Government to delay its passage through the House?
Ms Harman: When it next comes before the House will be announced in the business statement. The right hon. Gentleman will know that following the debates on the Lisbon treaty, a queue of important business is waiting to come back before the House.
Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): May we have an urgent debate on the Governments policy of coastal abandonment? The Environment Agency has proposed withdrawing support from many of the coastal defences on Sunk island and the South Holderness coast in my constituency, abandoning 2,000 homes around the Humber, and vast tracts of some of the most productive farmland in the country.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Despite the devolved Administrations, we still have Welsh and Scottish questions, so will the Leader of the House institute west country questions so that with the advent of the summer season and hundreds of thousands of welcome visitors coming down to the west country, we could discuss why we have the most neglected trunk road in Britain in the A303 and the worst rail service in the country in First Great Western?
Ms Harman: It is precisely for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman mentioned that we are committed to introducing regional accountability, so that on important questions concerning the regional infrastructure, regional Government offices and regional health authorities, where there is a democratic deficita lack of accountabilitythe appropriate authorities can be held to account by the House on the important decisions made in respect of the different regions through the process of regional Committees, which the Modernisation Committee is discussing and whose report will be due shortly. I hope that they will be introduced before the House rises for the summer.
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