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On 24 January, the House agreed that Sir John Baker would look into the question of MPs pay in respect of pegging it to a rate that would obviate the need for Members of the House to decide on our own pay. It was agreed that Sir John would report, and that we would have an opportunity to debate and decide on the reports conclusions, before the House rose for
the summer recess. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that Sir John is proceeding with his work and is on track. There will be enough time for hon. Members to look at his report before it is debated, which will be well before the House rises in the summer.
Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for the House to look at the level of support provided by our consular services to business men abroad? I am speaking of my constituent Norman Mark, among others. He sunk his life savings into a café in Turkey, only to find it occupied by local villagers. He has had little meaningful support from our consular services overseas and Turkish services here.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): May I take the Leader of the House back to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) about the National Insurance Contributions Bill? After the panic Budget statement on Tuesday, there may be implications for the Billalthough there may not; I do not knowbefore it starts to pass through the House of Lords. After all, the whole idea was to put national insurance contributions and income tax into line. Will we need another panic statement on that issue?
Ms Harman: As I understand it, making changes to the National Insurance Contributions Bill [Lords] in respect of the 10p tax rate would be out of scope. Matters of taxation are taken through the Finance Bill.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend may be aware of the untimely death of Scottish football legend Tommy Burns, who died earlier today. Tommy was a well-respected figure, not only in Scottish football, but throughout the UK. He was recognised for his contribution to the Scottish national football team and his beloved Celtic football club. Will my right hon. and learned Friend join the all-party Scottish football group and others in sending the Houses condolences to Tommys wife Rosemary and his four daughters? He will be sadly missed.
Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I am sure that the whole House will join him in paying tribute to Tommy Burns and in sending our condolences to Tommys wife Rosemary and his four children. Tommy was a highly respected figure in the football community, both as player and coach. Like his close friend and team mate Phil ODonnell, he was a family man. Both of them will be sadly missed.
Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con):
Will the right hon. and learned Lady consider allowing a topical debate on dentistry? Clearly, I have a declared interest in the subject; because of that, I get considerable pressure from outside the House. The debate should be broad and cover not only the national health service, although the Select Committee on Health has a report coming out soon, and to be fair, national health service dentistry is in a shambolic state. Could the debate be very broad, and cover prevention and education? It should also consider the General Dental Council, which is a
very expensive, authoritarian, invasive and unpleasant organisation in many ways. For example, I cannot understand why it asks dentists and dental nurses about their sexual interests in a questionnaire. The GDC is asking whether
Ms Harman: Dentistry, as the hon. Gentleman says, is an important public health issue. He will have an opportunity to raise it in the pre-recess Adjournment debate, if he so chooses. I shall consider his suggestion as a proposal for a topical debate.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): I warmly welcome the Governments proposals to extend the opportunity to request flexible working to the parents of older children. The Labour Government have a great record on helping parents to balance family life and work. Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that since 1997 the number of women in work in Wales has risen by nearly 13 per cent.? Does she agree that our proposals will be of great help to those women? When may we have a debate on the subject of family balance and work?
Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for her comments and I shall bring them to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. The fact that the stay-at-home mother now goes out to work has been a huge social revolution. We must ensure that women who go out to work can help the family finances and contribute to our economy and our services and can be the sort of parents that they want to be as they bring up their children. It is important that work is flexible around family needs, rather than the other way around. Some people have said in the past that such provisions are a burden on business, but we think that it is important for the whole of society that children are well brought up.
The next frontier in the question of flexible work is the care of older people. Just as the stay-at-home mother now goes out to work and is not available for the full-time care of her children, the stay-at-home daughter who used to care for elderly relatives goes out to work, too. We need to ensure that work is flexible not only for parents but for people who care for older relatives. I hope that the Opposition, as well as the whole House, will back us when we move forward on that.
Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con): May we have a debate on the online filing system? A recent Public Accounts Committee report showed that 3 million people filled the forms in wrongly, and understated their situation by £3 billion. The problem is that the online filing system was thought up by committee. It is complicated and difficult. I defy almost anybody to fill it in correctly. In America, which has many more taxpayers, the Internal Revenue Service administers the system through the public sector. That is highly successful and has worked well for years. Why can we not go down that route?
Ms Harman: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to raise that subject during the debate on the Public Accounts Committee motion this afternoon. I think that that would be an appropriate issue on which he could seek to catch the Speakers eye.
Mr. Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington, East) (Lab): Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a ceremony with local children to celebrate the complete rebuilding of Washington school in my constituency, which is part of a £120 million investment in secondary education in the city of Sunderland. Will the Leader of the House try to make time available for a debate on the benefits of that level of investment for young people in our constituencies, and the impact it has in transforming their lives and life chances?
Ms Harman: I am sure that the parents, teachers and pupils of Washington school will be glad that my hon. Friend has had the opportunity to raise the issue in the House today. We think that investment in schools is investment for the future. An investment in education for the next generation has sometimes been characterised as spendingthere have been complaints that we have not mended the roof while the sun is shiningbut investment in childrens education is the best foundation for the future economy.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): May I make a plea that the right hon. and learned Lady use the weekly business questions to respond to Members requests for debates rather than indulge in long party political statements?
I am consistent, and my question concerns the fact that Zimbabwe is dropping out of the picture, despite the fact its people continue to suffer. An election has been held and no proper results have been declared. Is it not time that the House held a debate on Zimbabwe, for which we are responsible as we put Mr. Mugabe in power in the first place? May we have a debate on the Floor of the House, in Government time, so that we can urge action and try to bring some peace and stability to that part of the world and to its long-suffering people?
Ms Harman: I will try to refrain from making party political points in business questions. The problem is that I am severely provoked by the Opposition. I will try to heed the hon. Gentlemans words because he, at least, is consistent in raising business issues in business questions. Indeed, he is consistent in expressing concern about Zimbabwe.
In Zimbabwe, torture seems to be on the increase, more people are being killed and there is displacement. The electoral commission has said that there should elections in August, but torture, killing and displacement are not a background for free and fair elections. There was an Adjournment debate two weeks ago on Zimbabwe, but the hon. Gentleman is right and, although we do not want to provide Mugabe with an opportunity to say that everybody should rally around him because it is all the fault of the British Government, we need to have a debate on the subject soon.
Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Following todays publication of the report by the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges, may we have a debate as soon as possible on openness in party political donations so that this House and the country can be fully aware of the systematic deception in the funding of individual shadow cabinet Members offices, and the way in which donations have been made to individual Members that have not been registered as they ought to have been in the Register of Members Interests?
Mr. Speaker: Order. We cannot accuse the shadow Cabinet or any other hon. Member of deception. [ Interruption. ] I have seen the report and I know what the hon. Gentleman is talking about. Perhaps he should withdraw the statement about deception. That would be the best thing to do.
Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): The Prime Minister made his statement on the pre-legislative programme yesterday. It included £200 million to fund the purchase of properties for rent or for use in shared equity schemes. However, The Press and Journal reports today that that £200 million is already with the Housing Corporation and is intended to help those who are unable to buy homes of their own. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Prime Minister to make another emergency relaunch statement to explain that the money is being recycled and that it applies to England only and to explain which of the spending programmes are to be slashed to fund yesterdays headline?
Ms Harman: The draft legislative programme, which we published yesterday, is, I believe, an important opportunity to set out the key points of the Governments forthcoming legislative programme, which will form the basis of the Queens Speech, together with other important issues that run alongside that programme. It is an opportunity for the public to see work that was previously undertaken behind closed doors. There will also be an opportunity to debate the draft legislative programme, with a full-day debate before the House rises in the summer.
[That this House welcomes the launch of the Fair Tips Charter Campaign by the Daily Mirror and Unite the UNION, while recognising there are honourable owners of hotels, restaurants, and other hospitality outlets who ensure that all gratuities are paid to their staff in addition to at least the minimum wage without deductions; is also aware that HM Revenue and Customs class service charges, cover charges, gratuities and tips all as gratuities for national insurance contributions purposes yet many hospitality establishments still treat these as extra payments to the proprietors and do not pass them on to their staff in addition to at least the minimum wage; understands that this practice is legally allowed at the moment because of regulation 31 subsection 1(e) governing the Minimum Wage Act 1998; and calls on all other trades unions and media to support the Fair Tips Charter, all hospitality outlets and their trade associations to sign up to and operate the four pledges in the Charter and the Government to introduce an amendment in the Queens Speech that will ensure that all tips will be paid to staff in addition to the minimum wage.]
The motion is tabled in my name and has been signed by 42 Members from across the Benches. It welcomes the launch of the fair tips charter campaign by Unite the Union and the Daily Mirror. As many as 1.5 million people are not getting their tips on top of their minimum wage. The Leader of the House might recall that the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform promised on 3 April that he would meet my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan). Will he extend that meeting to the Unite group in Parliament, which is backing the campaign? May we have a statement from the Secretary of State about how he will bring about the change? It does not require legislation, merely a change to the regulations, and I assume that it was left out of the promises for the Queens Speech on that basis.
Ms Harman: I congratulate the Unite group of MPs and Unite on their work on the fair tips charter. Obviously, it makes good sense for tips to be in cash. However, even when tips are given in cash, there is a question about whether they reach those who have provided the service for which the tip is meant. I know that the subject is being reviewed by the regulatory reform department in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, and no doubt its representatives will meet hon. Members, Unite and employers to discuss it further.
Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks) (Con): May we have a topical debate on whether anything could or should be done to stem the flow of increasingly tacky political memoirs? Does the Leader of the House agree that authors who do not meet a certain quality threshold should perhaps be required to donate the proceeds to charity?
Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): This morning, I have become aware that there has been another problem on the west coast main line to the south of Milton Keynes. This time it appears to be a massive signal failure; last week, it was blamed on a power failure. Will the Leader of the House consider holding a debate in this House on the reliability of the west coast main line and transparency on the part of Network Rail about why problems occur and when it is going to put them right?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend brings to the House a matter that is obviously of great importance to her constituents. I will bring it to the attention of Ministers in the Department for Transport, but she might also seek an opportunity to raise it in the pre-recess Adjournment debate.
Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con):
May we have an urgent debate on standards in education? Yesterday, the chief inspector of schools told the Children, Schools and Families Committee that improvements in standards had stalled. After the Prime Ministers lamentable
performance yesterday, is it not clear that not only our childrens education but this Government are irrevocably stalled?
Ms Harman: I think that that is one of those provocative questions. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), who was sitting next to the hon. Gentleman a moment ago [ Interruption. ] Well, I thought that the question was party political point scoring, but I will answer it in any event.
I thank the Select Committee for its work on testing and on standards across the piece. This Government have given great priority to investing in education and to ensuring that there is a fair and open system of testing that is helpful for parents, pupils and teachers, and that there is individual personal tuition for each child. We want more people to get education further on in their lives. That is why we are introducing an apprenticeship programme and increasing to 18 the age at which some education should still be going on. If the Opposition are as concerned as we are not only that every individual should achieve their potential but that the economy should have the supply of skilled and qualified workers it needs, I hope that they will back us in these proposals.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): May I encourage the Leader of the House to respond more positively to suggestions by the Conservatives that we discuss interest rates in this House? It would offer an opportunity to remind people who are anxious about interest rates that, for five years under the Conservative party, interest rates were over 10 per cent., and that although they are creating worry for people, they will not reach those levels because of this Governments good stewardship of the economy.
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend will have heard the Chancellor earlier this week, and the Prime Minister yesterday, express the Governments commitment to doing all we can to keep inflation low so that the Bank of England can keep interest rates low. Over the past 10 years, the Government have ensured that the economy has been run in such a way that we keep interest rates low. That has been the most important thing, alongside people having jobs and being secure in them, in ensuring that the housing market remains stable. I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): May we have a debate on the Highways Agencys investment in trunk roads in the south-west? I have often drawn attention to the safety improvements that are necessary on the A303, but may I also highlight the A36, particularly the stretch that runs through Standerwick, climbs over Black Dog hill, and straddles the Somerset and Wiltshire border? That road has a proven accident record. Standerwick has no protection at all as regards the speed limit, and it is time that something was done. The Highways Agency seems to be dragging its feet.
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