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Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that there was some coverage about the topical debate on knife crime last week. By their very nature, topical debates are important to our constituents, but the debates have a problem, because, often, not many Members can participate in them,
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hence the coverage that last week’s debate generated. Will she consider reviewing how we arrange topical debates so that more Members can participate and so that the media cannot distort what goes on in the House by suggesting that Members on both sides of the House are not in tune with what goes on in their constituencies, or do not share their constituents’ concerns?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes a very important point about topical debates. He is a champion of work against antisocial behaviour and criminality in his local community. I confirm to him and the House that we are reviewing the operation of topical debates, which have only recently been introduced. Several points have been raised, including not only how we choose the topic, but at what time during the week the debates take place. I shall report to the House before the summer recess. The question of the day on which they are held is under close review.

Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): The Government continue to reject the call for compensation for veterans who suffered as a result of their participation in the British nuclear weapons tests in the Indian and Pacific oceans in the 1950s. Instead of paying expensive lawyers to defend the indefensible, could we have a debate on the Floor of the House so that we can hear Ministers’ reasons for continuing to refuse that group of ex-servicemen the apology that they so obviously deserve?

Ms Harman: The Secretary of State for Defence and his team of Ministers will be answering oral questions on Monday; I suggest that the hon. Gentleman raises that issue then.

Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the horrible events at her family home at the weekend were a timely reminder to all Members that to confuse openness about our expenses—something that I thoroughly support—with the exposure of addresses of Members of Parliament is a mistake, and one that we should absolutely resist?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Of course we want to make sure that public money is properly spent and that we are open with the public about how it is spent. However, the question of the publication of Members’ addresses raises an issue that is fundamental to the role of hon. Members in this House. No Member should have to make a choice between saying in the House what they believe to be right, and fearing for their and their family’s safety because of the publication of their home address. We will defend the right of all hon. Members to speak openly. That means that, while we are open about public spending, we do not put the addresses of hon. Members’ London homes in the public domain.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): Last week the Leader of the House indicated, but understandably could not confirm, that there would be no rule change that would have the effect of allowing the disposal of defence estates to accrue to devolved Parliaments and Assemblies. Since then we have had last night’s important vote and the rumours surrounding it. Will the right hon. and learned Lady arrange for the Chancellor to
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rule out categorically any Treasury rule change that, whatever the merits of increased spending in Northern Ireland, would have the effect of a defence cut?

Ms Harman: Treasury questions are not until 10 July, but the hon. Gentleman may find an opportunity to make his points in the Democratic Unionist party Opposition day debate or the defence procurement debate, which takes place on Thursday next week.

Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that later this afternoon we will discuss opposed private business relating to the control of illegal street trading, including that of peddlers. I appreciate that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) has pursued my right hon. and learned Friend assiduously on the issue, but I make no apologies for joining the hue and cry.

Given that the measures enjoy cross-party support and that councils and the police are having to put huge amounts of time and effort into tackling these issues, as well as lobbying us in this House, and given the time that we Members spend on the issue, is it not time for the Government to provide at least a legal framework that gives councils the discretion to introduce the powers when they think they are necessary, to protect local consumers and legal traders?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point, which I am sure will be amplified in the debate later and considered closely by my colleagues at the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I thank the Leader of the House for arranging a debate on Zimbabwe, although I am a little saddened that it will come after the rerun of the presidential election in that country and that we are not able to emphasise the importance of a large number of election observers there to see that the election is free and fair.

I have a question for the Leader of the House about future business. Will she produce a report for the House to consider on the processes of programming and selecting topical debates? I believe that there is a requirement on both sides of the House for those processes to be reviewed, and I hope that a review of both will be announced by the Leader of the House in the relatively near future.

Ms Harman: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has welcomed the fact that I intend the House to debate Zimbabwe on 3 July. I know that he was able to make the points that he so often makes in the House at a meeting earlier this week with Lord Malloch-Brown, who briefed hon. Members and Members of the House of Lords on Zimbabwe. I know that Lord Malloch-Brown found it useful to hear from the hon. Gentleman, who has a long-standing interest in Zimbabwe.

The hon. Gentleman will know that programming was considered in detail by the Modernisation Committee, which reported on it in 2006; there is no reason to look again at the issue now. As far as topical debates are concerned, the hon. Gentleman will know that we are reviewing their operation. There is still an opportunity to make points to that review before I make my report, which will happen before the House rises in the summer.

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Mr. Elliot Morley (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I welcome the fact that there is to be a debate on polyclinics next Tuesday. Will my right hon. and learned Friend advise me whether it would be in order to refer to the British Medical Association petition presented to No. 10? I am sure that many people, including my constituents, were misled into signing that petition because they were told that general practices, particularly in rural areas, would close as a result of the changes. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey) and I met the North Lincolnshire primary care trust representatives, who said categorically that the funding for the new clinic in Scunthorpe is additional and that not a single practice is under threat. Will it be in order to emphasise that point in that debate?

Ms Harman: It certainly will be. We are pleased that the Opposition have chosen the issue of polyclinics and GP services for the Opposition day debate. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that people are very concerned about primary care services. It is important that they should not be subjected to misinformation; that issue particularly concerns vulnerable and elderly people.

My right hon. Friend is right—we are talking about new, additional money. Some £250 million was announced last autumn for new GP-led health centres in every PCT area; that comes on top of the existing GP provision. Furthermore, there will be additional, new GP surgeries in the most deprived areas. That situation is different from that in London, where there was a long-term review, with a proposal for polyclinics that is the subject of discussion by PCTs in London today. My right hon. Friend is right: we are not imposing anything anywhere. We are, however, demanding high standards, greater access and good premises. We are supporting that with more funds and higher pay, and next Tuesday there will be not only an Opposition day debate but oral questions.

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): May we have a debate in Government time about compensation for members of our armed forces who have been injured in action? I know that the Ministry of Defence is currently reviewing the amount and type of compensation given to our brave servicemen and women. However, before that is put into practice, may we have a debate on the Floor of the House so that hon. Members can say how we feel our servicemen and women should be treated if they are injured?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity shortly to raise that issue in MOD questions; in the meantime, I shall draw it to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Ministry of Defence.

Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole) (Lab): Following on from the previous question, my right hon. and learned Friend will no doubt be aware of comments about pay and conditions for our military. The Prime Minister announced that there would be a White Paper to consider that issue and the military covenant, on which the Royal British Legion has been campaigning for some time. Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that when that White Paper is published, the House will have an opportunity to discuss it so that we long-term supporters of the covenant will get the chance to have our say?

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Ms Harman: My hon. Friend reflects concern across the House on those issues. I will make sure that when the White Paper is forthcoming, we consider opportunities for it to be presented to and debated in the House.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House whether the Northern Ireland Secretary will make a statement early next week on the financial and other implications of the agreement made yesterday with representatives of Northern Ireland constituencies? It is quite plain that, aside from the pressure exercised on Labour Back Benchers, an awful lot of English pork is being shovelled into a very large Northern Irish barrel. We have a right to know something about the detail of that so that we can judge the propriety—I use my words carefully—of the influences that were brought to bear.

Ms Harman: Like everyone in the whole House, the Government remain committed to peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland. That is the work to which the Government, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and his team of Ministers are committed. I deplore the smears and disgraceful slurs and allegations that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has made. He ought to know better.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): A number of hon. Members, including me, have been raising various issues related to the beauty industry—issues ranging from nail bars to tattooing and tanning salons. We have been expressing our concern about the health aspects. There is a problem, however, in that the matter crosses a number of areas—the health of customers, the occupational health of employees, trading standards and the licensing systems of local government. Will the Leader of the House consider how the House could look at all those different aspects of the beauty industry together, rather than our having to try to pick them off one by one?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and I would add the Department of Health to the list of Departments concerned. Sometimes, the people receiving such so-called beauty treatments end up with their health being jeopardised. Perhaps I might have a meeting with my hon. Friend to discuss how we could take the issue forward so that the House can be given the opportunity to debate it, and so that we can bring together ministerial action on the issue.

Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): May we have an urgent debate on the proposals of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to slash the number of tax offices, and close all three in my constituency? The proposals would mean that my constituents would have to travel long distances for a face-to-face meeting with a tax inspector—over 100 miles in some cases. They also mean the loss of an awful lot of experienced tax inspectors. That is no way to run a fair and efficient tax collection service. The proposals should be withdrawn.

Ms Harman: We want to make sure that HMRC operates as efficiently as possible, and that administration costs are kept to a minimum. More and more people are dealing with their tax matters online, but there is still an important role for face-to-face meetings, which the hon.
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Gentleman mentions. In respect of his constituency, I suggest that he seek an Adjournment debate on the matter.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): In 2008, is it not appalling that sports and social clubs in my constituency still can, and do, discriminate on grounds of sex? Is it not about time that we had a debate on the subject in the House, with particular reference to mixed clubs that treat male members differently from female members, so that we can discuss how to bring about more equality in sports and social clubs?

Ms Harman: I welcome my hon. Friend’s commitment to equality, which I share. He will know, as the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and other Members in the House do, that we will bring forward an equality Bill. Later this month, I hope to be able to set out to the House what the Bill’s provisions will be, but I can say that the Bill will ensure that clubs that offer membership to both women and men will no longer be able to discriminate against women; they will have to treat men and women equally.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): May I press the Leader of the House a little further on the question of statements from the Prime Minister on the strategy for Afghanistan, as did my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House? We last had such a statement on 12 December, which is nearly six months ago. On that occasion, the Prime Minister gave us the broad strategy for winning Afghanistan in the long term, but since then I have obtained a paper from the Foreign Office, which I will place on my website this afternoon, and which demonstrates that things are not going according to plan. We are winning militarily, but we are in big trouble strategically. Only if the Prime Minister shows real leadership on the issue, and explains time and again to the British people and the international community what we are trying to achieve there, will we succeed. Will he show that leadership by making a statement to the House?

Ms Harman: I do not accept that we are in big trouble strategically. There is international action, in which we are joining together with other countries. The hon. Gentleman may know that there is a Westminster Hall debate on Afghanistan next Tuesday. However, I know that there is concern on the issue across the House, and I will consider how we can find an opportunity to debate fully the important work of our troops, and those from other countries, in Afghanistan.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): May we have a debate on the recent proposals to give additional money to carers to access respite care? Those carers will take up that money only if they can be assured of good quality care in residential homes. The excellent series on the Radio 4 “Today” programme last week on residential homes did not do anything to inspire confidence on the issue.

Ms Harman: The series of programmes to which my hon. Friend refers—I agree that they were excellent—put the spotlight on an issue of growing concern. Over the next 20 years, the number of people aged over 85 is set to double. We are all concerned to make sure that those
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in residential or nursing homes have the best institutional care, and that those who are with their families are able properly to be supported by them, and that includes respite care. I will bring my hon. Friend’s points to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Health, and to the commission that the Government have set up to advise us on those important issues.

Mr. David Gauke (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): May we please have a statement on Government policy on Cuba? I know that the Leader of the House considers Fidel Castro something of a hero, and she may be pleased that it is reported this morning that Government policy on sanctions against Cuba may be changed as a consequence of buying off a couple of rebels on the 42-day detention vote. How does she think our allies will view foreign policy if our policy on Cuba is to be changed as part of a grubby deal to buy off a few Labour Back Benchers who are sympathetic to left-wing dictators?

Ms Harman: Fortunately, I think I can rest assured that our allies will take no notice of the sort of points that the hon. Gentleman raised, and neither will I.

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HMS Tireless

2.16 pm

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): I should like to inform the House of the outcome of the board of inquiry on the incident on board HMS Tireless in March last year, in which two members of the Royal Navy—Leading Operator Maintainer Paul McCann and Operator Maintainer Anthony Huntrod—tragically lost their lives. Another member was seriously injured. Uppermost in our minds and, I am sure, the thoughts of the whole House are the families and friends of those killed and injured, to whom I would like to reiterate our deepest sympathy at this very difficult time.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence felt that the House should be informed of the outcome at the earliest opportunity because of the tragic nature of the incident, and because it is clear that the Ministry of Defence must bear responsibility for it. Indeed, the Secretary of State would have preferred to have made the statement personally. However, the need to complete the work required to release the board of inquiry, the commitments of the families and his need to attend a NATO meeting of Defence Ministers, at which important issues relating to operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo will be discussed, made that impossible. In those circumstances, I hope the House will understand his asking me to make this statement.

I would like to pay tribute to the very high levels of professionalism shown by all those involved in the incident on HMS Tireless, which, as revealed by the board of inquiry, should serve to reinforce our confidence in the willingness and ability of our armed forces to uphold the highest standards of behaviour and display extraordinary bravery in life-threatening situations. This is something of which we should all—especially the families—be justifiably proud.

The House will know that the purpose of a board of inquiry is to establish the circumstances of an incident and to learn lessons from it to prevent a similar incident from occurring. A board of inquiry does not seek to apportion blame. We have done everything that we can to establish the causes of the incident, so that we may learn the lessons from it. Running parallel to the board of inquiry, which was extremely thorough, there has been a full investigation carried out by a police taskforce, led by the Royal Navy police special investigations branch. That comprised military investigators and civilian detectives, and was assisted by the UK Forensic Explosives Laboratory and NASA in the USA. Those highly experienced investigators independently investigated the incident, and their findings are consistent with those of the board of inquiry.

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