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19 Jun 2008 : Column 1087

Ms Harman: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, debates in the other place are not programmed: it is simply a question of when the other place concludes its debates on the matter. The Bill will then follow the usual course of events. It is important for this House to ensure that, against a mounting threat of terrorism, we have the right laws for the police and courts to apply, and that we have the right safeguards for civil liberties. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the police and the prosecutors who, week in, week out, protect us by prosecuting serious terrorist offences in courts, and whose achievement in doing so is considerable.

Gwyn Prosser (Dover) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the difficulties caused by academic selection to non-grammar schools in places such as Kent, and I know that she shares my support for the Government’s national challenge. However, is she aware of the damage done to the 638 schools that were named and shamed last week, three of which were in my constituency of Dover, in the Deal area? Will she consider scheduling a debate on this important issue?

Ms Harman: The purpose of the national challenge, which the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families set out, is to make absolutely sure that every child has the best opportunities in their education, every day they go to school. The intention is not to demoralise staff or to stigmatise schools, but to make absolutely sure that every school is a good school. Given that children spend only one period of time at school, we cannot afford to allow a situation to develop whereby they are not getting the best education each day they are there.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Does the right hon. and learned Lady agree with paragraph 66 of the report of Sir John Baker on pay and allowances, which says that there needs to be

To that end, would she facilitate such a distinction by ensuring that we have two separate debates on salary and expenses on 3 July?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I will take up his proposal, and we will have separate debates: one on remuneration, pay and pensions, and the other on reimbursement of expenditure, which hon. Members need to run their offices, to travel to and from their constituencies and to live away from their constituencies when the House is sitting.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): In the next few weeks, a decision will be taken on the contract on the clean-up of Sellafield and the country’s stockpile of nuclear waste, which could cost up to £75,000 million, based on the Government’s figures. May we have a debate on the management of nuclear waste, in the context of the Government’s restated policy vastly to expand the nuclear industry?

Ms Harman: There was a statement on nuclear waste by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs last week, but I will raise with colleagues the points that my hon. Friend makes.

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Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I fully support the call of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) for a longer debate on Zimbabwe, although I am most grateful to the Leader of the House for arranging a topical debate on 3 July. May I help the Leader of the House in responding to the concerns about Zimbabwe by asking whether she would arrange for the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs or a Foreign Office Minister to come to the House next week to give information on the number of election observers and monitors who will be in place when that election occurs? As the Leader of the House knows, it will take place before the debate in this House. That election cannot be free and fair unless there are independent international observers present to witness it.

Ms Harman: Foreign Office questions are next Tuesday, and there will be an opportunity for topical questions to be asked. The election will then be on Friday, and the following week there will be the debate led by the Foreign Secretary. The whole House is concerned about the situation, and we will keep the matter under review and ensure that the House has an opportunity to have a debate and play its part in expressing to the world, to African countries and to people in Zimbabwe the fact that we stand behind the Zimbabwean people and their right to vote and choose their own Government.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend agree to publish the Government’s final proposals for the equality Bill ahead of next Thursday’s general debate on the draft legislative programme, the better to inform the debate on such important matters as outlawing age discrimination and enabling mothers to breast-feed their babies in public?

Ms Harman: I will quite shortly be setting out to the House the provisions that we expect to be included in the Government’s new equality Bill. Hon. Members and many outside organisations have said that they feel that the last frontier of equality is ensuring that the growing number of older people in this country do not unfairly face prejudice and discrimination.

My hon. Friend mentioned breast-feeding. I confirm to him that we intend to make it clear in the Bill that it is not acceptable for women who are breast-feeding their babies to be shooed out of restaurants, public galleries or other public places. It is important that we encourage and support women who are breast-feeding their children, so the law should make it clear that it is not possible to exclude a woman on that basis.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Is it not clear that the sheer magnitude of the evil tyranny in Zimbabwe dictates that we should have a longer debate rather than just a topical debate or rely on the vagaries of Foreign Office questions next week?

The Leader of the House mentioned Prime Minister’s Question Time. Will she comment on why the Prime Minister did not answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) about China’s role in bankrolling Mugabe?

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is not a question about the business for next week. The right hon. and learned Lady will try to answer the first part of the right hon. Gentleman’s question.

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Ms Harman: I understand the concern that the right hon. Gentleman and many other hon. Members have raised. There is great concern about Zimbabwe, and the House wants an opportunity to debate it widely and hear from the Government. That opportunity will be afforded not only in Foreign Office questions next week but immediately after the election has been held, on 3 July.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): The Climate Change Bill will start its Committee stage next week, which is really good news. Will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that there is no attempt to weaken clause 80, on mandatory reporting of the carbon emissions of larger companies? It has widespread support from the business community, and the CBI is not against it. Non-governmental organisations and many Members of the House have signed up to it, and the changes were agreed without a Division in the other place. Will my right hon. and learned Friend talk to her colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to ensure that we do not change that clause, because it is jolly good as it stands?

Ms Harman: I will bring to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends in DEFRA the points made by my hon. Friend, who is a great champion of tackling climate change. If we are to make progress, it is important that we can see where progress is being made. Monitoring is part of that.

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): May we have a debate on the performance of the Office of the Public Guardian? I am sure that hon. Members of all parties have been contacted by constituents who are concerned by the increasing length of time that it is taking to get lasting powers of attorney. In the case of one of my constituents, it has now been some 20 weeks—almost three times the target time in which the OPG says it will deliver it. That is causing major distress to families who are already having to deal with ailing relatives. I simply ask the Leader of the House whether we can look into that matter.

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. There are not a huge number of people affected, but it is a huge issue for those who are. I shall raise it with the relevant Departments and consider how to deal with it.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): May I refer to my early-day motion 1839?

That this House is alarmed by the Government’s proposal to abolish the requirement on employers to retain employers’ liability compulsory insurance for 40 years; acknowledges that the existing law is poorly enforced; notes that the Government intend to introduce a statutory instrument before the summer recess to achieve this reform to employment and insurance law; recognises the significant distress of mesothelioma sufferers and their families who have been awarded industrial injury damages in court but cannot trace their former employers’ insurers; believes that this inability to trace the insurers of employers whose workers were exposed to fatal asbestos dust as part of their work illustrates the need for insurance law to be strengthened, not weakened; further believes that the Department for Work and Pensions’ solution will absolve employers and their insurers from responsibility for future victims of
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industrial illnesses like mesothelioma who are diagnosed with a fatal industrial illness many years after exposure; and calls upon the Government not to introduce this statutory instrument to withdraw and to consult the public further on this matter.

It draws attention to the Government’s proposal to introduce before the summer recess a statutory instrument to weaken insurance law and remove the obligation on employers to retain compulsory employers liability insurance for 40 years. That would have a serious effect on those who are exposed to occupational hazards that are slow to show, such as mesothelioma. If the Leader of the House were to persuade the Government not to introduce that statutory instrument and to put it out to further consultation, that would create more space for the packed range of submissions that she is receiving this morning. The issue is serious and affects many thousands of people, and we do not know what many of them are being exposed to.

Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important point. We want to ensure that standards of health and safety at work are as high as possible, and with the most effective regulation. Perhaps I will suggest to my fellow Ministers that they meet him and any other hon. Members who want to raise the issue before the regulations come before the House.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Rushden bowling club, in my constituency, normally gets a water bill for £300 every six months. Recently, £10,000 was debited from its account. It never received a bill, neither the bank nor the water company will do anything about it, and it has turned to me as a last hope. May we have a topical debate on the relevance of the power of utility companies over private citizens?

Ms Harman: I have urged Members to put forward proposals for topical debates, and the hon. Gentleman has done exactly that. I shall consider it, but he might also consider applying for an Adjournment debate on the case of his bowling club.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): During the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, there has been considerable support in both Houses for the proposal to establish a parliamentary bioethics committee. In my view, it should cover human as well as animal bioethics, because issues such as xenotransplantation and admixed human embryos cross the boundary. Will my right hon. and learned Friend be prepared to take that issue through the usual channels and particularly seek Government support? Perhaps we can have a statement before the Bill’s final stages in this place.

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes some very good points. I know that the Minister of State, Department of Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Dawn Primarolo), has said that we will reflect further on that matter. If a Joint Committee were to be set up, it would be an issue for both Houses to consider, and it may be something for myself and other members of the Modernisation Committee or the Procedure Committee to look into.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Some 235 right hon. and hon. Members have so far signed early-day motion 1620.

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[ That this House believes that the home address of any hon. or Rt. hon. Member should not be published if he or she objects to publication on grounds of privacy or personal security. ]

It is about the dangerous decision of judges that MPs’ home addresses should be published. Will there be an opportunity to consider that matter on 3 July? I should like to tell the House about the three polite but firm notes of refusal that I had from the judges who made that decision, after I asked them whether they would give me their home addresses. Clearly, judges believe that they are more at risk from MPs than MPs are from everybody else.

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman’s early-day motion has shown two things: that there is great concern across the House and that there is something by way of a consensus. The consensus is that there should be transparency and that we should ensure that the public know that public money is being spent properly, and that there are strict and clear rules. That will be the subject of the Members Estimate Committee’s proposals about Members’ allowances and reimbursement of expenditure. Although hon. Members want to ensure that the public have confidence in how money is spent, it is absolutely clear that we must have the freedom to debate in this Chamber without having to look over our shoulder. It must not be the case that, because our addresses have been published, we cannot speak freely about something controversial.

In response to the hon. Gentleman’s point and his early-day motion, I not only propose that the House should have the opportunity to debate the matter on 3 July, but I shall place a resolution before the House so that hon. Members will have the opportunity to vote for the views expressed in the early-day motion.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): Can we have a debate on the exploitation of illegal migrant workers in this country by employers? My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of recently introduced Government legislation, under which, as of today, companies and company directors who knowingly employ illegal immigrants will be not only fined but named and shamed. Although that is welcome, will the Leader of the House go one step further and use her good offices to influence her Cabinet colleagues, so that when Government contracts are tendered for, the activities of such companies and company directors are taken into account?

Ms Harman: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has spent many years, before he entered the House and since, ensuring that we protect vulnerable workers from exploitation and that employers should be held to account. He raises an important point. The Government will be doing all that we can to stop employers from exploiting immigrants who enter without leave or whose leave has expired. The practice not only undermines people who are already long-standing legal workers here, but is particularly relevant at a time when major Government contracts will be placed with companies competing to build, for example, the extra homes needed in the construction of the facilities for the Olympics. I will certainly raise the matter with Cabinet colleagues.

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Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): As the Leader of the House said, the Baker report has been published and the Members Estimate Committee report is about to be published. In the light of Sir Christopher Kelly’s comments in the report that he has published in his capacity as chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, would it not be sensible to invite him formally to comment on both reports before we debate them on 3 July? After all, he chairs the committee whose job it is to maintain standards in public life and his comments will add credibility to our debates.

Ms Harman: That is a helpful suggestion. It would help the House’s debate for Sir Christopher Kelly to have an opportunity to put forward his views on the proposals on which the House will decide. He will already have seen the Government’s proposals and the Baker proposals on pay and pensions. When the Members Estimate Committee report comes out—and is made available in good time before the debate for hon. Members to consider it, table any amendments and reflect on it—it might be useful, without pre-empting colleagues on the MEC, formally to forward a copy to Sir Christopher Kelly. That way, if he wants to make any proposals, he can make them to the MEC, which would be better than his perhaps commenting on television afterwards.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): May I draw my right hon. and learned Friend’s attention to the excellent early-day motion 1830, which was tabled yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck)?

[ That this House recognises that Britain is suffering the effects of a housing affordability crisis; highlights new research by Shelter showing that two million households are being pushed to breaking point by unmanageable housing costs; notes that thousands of households are homeless or trapped in damp, dilapidated or overcrowded housing, because they are unable to afford to rent or buy a decent home; welcomes the launch of Shelter's Now is the Time campaign to make sure everyone has an affordable, decent place to call home; and calls on the Government to meet its commitment on building homes by 2020, ensure that enough social rented homes are built for those who need them most, protect people facing eviction and repossession or living in bad housing, and end the housing divide by making the housing system fairer for everyone. ]

The motion deals with housing need and refers to the recent Shelter report, “Now is the Time”. In view of the fact that house sales are now falling, which will undoubtedly put extra pressure on housing waiting lists, and the already serious shortage of housing to rent, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend for a long, serious debate on housing in all its aspects, which would deal with all the issues raised in the early-day motion? That debate should also look into the kind of policies that were successfully adopted by a previous Labour Government in the 1970s, in particular municipalising empty properties that are unsafe and not being sold, but which could in future be rented out to those on waiting lists.

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