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My hon. Friend is right. I dare say that there is no constituency in the countrywhether inner-city, urban or ruralwhere that issue has not been faced at one time or another. I agree with him about the importance of the legislation and the duty of care that the police, the prosecution and everyone else involved with such witnesses owe. In fact, I cannot think of any case in which the undertakings given to witnesses in respect of anonymity have been broken. There may be some, but it is very rare because not only is the witness involved put in jeopardy, but so is the credibility of the whole system. We will use the opportunity of the emergency legislation to deal with the immediate gap created by the Law
Lords judgment, and then more slowly, as is appropriate, we will think about other measures that might be included in the Bill that I will introduce just before Christmas.
Mr. Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con): As I am sure the Secretary of State will agree, it is important to recognise that all those accused in our courts are innocent until they are proven guilty. One of the most effective tools for the uncovering of an unjust allegation is cross-examination, but that can be emasculated if the defendant does not know who his accuser is. However, I welcome the approach that the Government are taking, and provided that the measures taken are careful and proportionate, in the words of the Law Lords, I am sure that my colleagues and I will support whatever the Government propose.
Will the Secretary of State clarify two points? First, to what categories of case will the new provisions apply, and how will they be defined? Secondly, will the Secretary of State give consideration, at least, to applying the new provisions to defence witnesses? There are cases in which defence witnesses can experience the same types of intimidatory pressure as prosecution witnesses, especially if the defence run is one that is in conflict with that of a co-defendant.
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for what he has said. He asked what categories of case would be involved. I do not intend the change in the law, to bring it back as far as possible to where we thought it was, to apply to specific categories of case. In a sense, the categories of case define themselves. For that reasonI am sorry, I was asked this question earlier and did not answer itI do not propose at this stage to restrict the cases to Crown court cases. I am open to representations about that, but the law as applied at large is the best way. There have been some cases in the magistrates court where, I am told, these measures have been used. It is for judges and magistrates in individual cases to make the judgment about whether such measures are appropriate. We intend to ensure that proper guidance is made available to the courts and prosecutors about the circumstances. That might meet the hon. and learned Gentlemans concerns. On the point about the availability of such measures for defence witnesses, I agree. He will be pleased to hear that yesterday, in determining the instructions to parliamentary counsel, I decided that such provision should be made available to defence witnesses, too.
Wednesday 9 JulyOpposition Day [Unallotted Day] [First Part]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion in the name of the Democratic Unionist Party, subject to be announced, followed by motion to approve a statutory instrument, followed by all stages of the Statute Law (Repeals) Bill [ Lords].
My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor has just announced that we will be bringing forward emergency legislation on witnesses. We anticipate that that will be in the week beginning 7 July, and there will be consequences for the timetabling of other business that week. I shall give full details next week of the business as it has changed for the week beginning 7 July.
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her statement. Earlier, she made a statement on the equality Bill. As Leader of the House, she has a responsibility to ensure that Ministers take Parliament seriously. Indeed, on 10 January she said that
it is important that Ministers are answerable to this House rather than the media.[ Official Report, 10 January 2008; Vol. 470, c. 538.]
Will she explain to the House why, as the Minister for Women and Equality, she gave details of the equality Bill to the press yesterday, and on television and radio this morning, before her statement to the House?
Last month, I tabled a written parliamentary question to the Cabinet Office asking whether it had met its self-imposed senior civil service diversity targets by the April 2008 deadline. The Cabinet Office replied that the figures would not be published until the autumn. Soon after, in a desperate attempt to stop The Guardian from publishing an article on diversity target cover-ups, the Cabinet Office released its figures to that newspaper. Does not the Leader of the House agree that it is unacceptable for a Government Department to refuse to give figures in a written parliamentary answer but to disclose them to a national newspaper? Will she undertake to write to the Cabinet Office on behalf of all Members who expect proper answers to their written parliamentary questions?
May we have a debate on the workings of the Government Equalities Office, for which the right hon. and learned Lady has responsibility? It was set up to ensure equality and fairness, yet it is the only Government Department that has failed to set up a database to monitor its equality performance. In the paper Framework for a Fairer Future, the table on the percentage of staff who are disabled shows under the title Government Equalities Office not a figure but the words Under review. The Government are very willing to point the finger at the private sector, but they would do well to set their own house in order first.
We had a statement yesterday on the Pitt review of last summers devastating floods, which recommended urgent action that needs to be taken to prevent a recurrence. The Government have announced that they will publish draft legislation in 2009, which might not be in force until 2010. The two-year timetable suggests that the Government have failed to grasp the urgency of the recommendations. As the Governments business manager, will the right hon. and learned Lady make a statement to the House to explain that delay?
May we have a debate on the property market? Many would-be first-time buyers are not only being turned down by mortgage lenders but faced with having to pay higher rents, which eat even more into their savings. Home ownership is getting beyond the reach of many more people under this Government, so may we have a debate on the subject?
May we have a debate in Government time on the structure of Government Departments? We learned yesterday that the loss of the personal details of 25 million people was a direct result of the reorganisation of Departments brought about by the Prime Minister when he was Chancellor. We also know that the changes that he introduced to banking supervision through the tripartite approach to supervision were a factor in the failure to identify Northern Rocks problems at an earlier stage. The Midas touch turned everything into gold, but the Brown effect turns everything into chaos.
Speaking of the Prime Minister, and given that we are at the anniversary of his taking over, may we have a debate on the effect of his first year in office on the state of the nation? That will enable us to discuss the 2,500 post office closures, the first run on a bank in 150 years, soaring food, fuel and energy costs, overcrowded prisons and the early release of criminals, the doubling of violent crime, the closure of maternity departments and accident and emergency departments, and the loss of
the personal details of half the population. In a year, he has gone from Flash Gordon to Crash Gordon. When will he accept that it is time for change?
Ms Harman: The right hon. Lady asked about this mornings statement on equality. As she will know, a year ago a consultation document was published, and since then there has been a great deal of debate and discussion in both the public and the private sector about the different measures that should be taken forward. There has been a lot of public discussion and debate, which I, as well as many others, have taken part in. The document that we have published today was not circulated to or seen by anybody before it was placed in the Vote Office of this House.
The right hon. Lady mentioned the release of information in relation to the senior civil service targets on equality. I shall look into the sequence of events following her written question. Obviously, if information is available it should be given. I shall write to her to let her know what the sequence of events was.
The right hon. Lady mentioned the Government Equalities Office and said that the public sector must set its own house in order. Indeed it must, and that is why we have published for the first time the gender pay gap between different Government Departments so that we can see where things are, take stock and make progress.
The right hon. Lady asked about the legislation arising from the Pitt review on floods. Her point was answered when the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made his statement yesterday. I leave her with the answer that he gave: that we need to legislate as swiftly as we possibly can, while ensuring that we get it absolutely right. I cannot add to his extensive and detailed statement.
The right hon. Lady asked for a debate on the property market and expressed concern about the situation for first-time buyers. I remind her that last Thursday, the subject of the topical debate was eco-towns, and the increased supply of housing was very much an issue of debate. The House had a full chance to raise that subject for an hour and a half.
The right hon. Lady asked about the review of data protection, published yesterday. The House had a full statement from the Chancellor on the details of the Poynter review and the Government responses to it, so I do not think that it would be right or necessary to have a further debate. If hon. Members want to make any further points on the matter, we will have the opportunity this afternoon to debate the draft legislative programme and the range of legislation included in it. Members might find the opportunity to make their points.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the review of the use of restraint in secure training centres, which was set up following the death of Gareth Myatt and was supposed to report quickly, reported to the Government last week? However, it is not to be published until October, when the Government will publish their response. Does she agree that by any stretch of the imagination, taking a year to publish is not very quick? Will she arrange for publication to be brought forward to before the recess, so that people have the opportunity to read the report before the Government publish their response, which may well be in October?
Ms Harman: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has raised this issue persistently. She will know that we are considering how young offenders are treated as part of the youth crime action plan. The use of appropriate, but not excessive, restraint is being considered as part of that. On 8 October the Minister of State for Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), announced the appointment of Williamson and Smallridge as independent co-chairs of the review. On 20 June it was announced that they had reported their recommendations. The Government have welcomed their report and will give its recommendations careful consideration. We will consider my hon. Friends point about getting the response of hon. Members before the Government publish their response.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): May I repeat a request that I make fairly frequently of the Leader of the House? She has announced that two Bills will have their Report stage in the next two weeksthe Finance Bill and the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill. Has she yet been able to come up with a formula to allow Opposition amendments and new clauses to be considered, but to allow additional time if the Government wish to make changes to their own legislation, rather than time being taken out of the normal, agreed time for considering the Bill that has come from Committee?
The situation in Zimbabwe is desperate and ever worsening. The Leader of the House has announced that there will be a debate on Zimbabwe. Can we find a way of ensuring that that debate is given the time necessary for colleagues in all parts of the House to express their views? I am sure that that will be agreed to across the House. I do not think that there is a single person in Britain who would not think it perfectly proper for us to spend a full day, after questions, debating Zimbabwe. I am conscious that there are to be motions on Members pay and allowances the same day, but I do not think that the public will understand if we do not have adequate time to debate Zimbabwe, and instead take up time debating our own pay and allowances. I am sure that colleagues throughout the House would be willing to sit later to deal with our own domestic arrangements and remuneration. Like the public, we would think it far better to give Zimbabwe the time that it needs. There are many links with Zimbabwe in the House and there is huge concern, and next week presents an opportunity to debate the matter properly.
As other hon. Members will, I welcome the work of the Leader of the House and her colleagues on the Members Estimate Committee in producing their report, which we are to debate. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) is also on the Committee. Given that one of the objectives that it has set is to get public confidence in the new systems for dealing with our pay and allowances, if the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life makes comments and observations on the report in good time before next Thursday, will the Government take them into account and be willing to reconsider specific proposals in the light of that external advice? That way, we could see that we were doing something that not only commanded confidence among MPs, and was put to MPs to decide on, but had support outside the House.
Last week, the Prime Minister went to Jeddah to discuss the global energy crisis. May we have a debate on that issue and on the profits of oil companies? Ideally, we would have the Prime Minister here so that we could quiz him on the benefit of that trip and whether it will make any difference in the short, medium or long term to families in Britain. They are still seeing their bills go up, without any immediate prospect of the energy companies contributing to their going in the opposite direction.
Finally, as the right hon. Member for Maidenhead pointed out, it would be wrong for us not to mark the fact that this week is our Prime Ministers first anniversary in office. He told us a year ago, and told the nation again in September, that he wanted to carry on rather than call a general election so that he could set out his vision for Britain. As he has had 12 months of doing that, and as Labours ratings in the opinion polls have gone down in that time by a record 13 percentage points to their lowest ever recorded figures
In view of all that, may we have a debate on the highs and lows, and successes and failures, of the Prime Ministers first year in office? In particular, could we link that to considering whether it would have been better for the Prime Minister and the Government to have signed up long ago to fixed-term Parliaments? In that case, the Prime Minister would not have had the embarrassment of last Septemberwill he, wont he, and then no election happening at all. We would all have known that four years after the previous election there would have been another, so that we could have decided whether we really wanted this Government to continue in office in any longer.
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman raised the point about having sufficient time to discuss amendments on Report. We timetable Report stages with programme motions precisely to take into account the issues that need to be debated. Obviously the timetable varies from Bill to Bill, but his distinction between Opposition and Government amendments is sometimes quite blurred. Quite often, the Government table amendments because we have undertaken to do so at the request of Opposition Members or our own Back Benchers.
The hon. Gentleman asked about Zimbabwe. The House had a chance to hear from the Foreign Secretary in his statement on Zimbabwe on Monday. On Wednesday the Prime Minister answered questions on the matter and reported his and the Governments action. Next Thursday the House will have a one-and-a-half-hour debate, which will be the first opportunity to debate the matter after the elections. Unfortunately, I doubt that that will be the end of the matter, and no doubt we will need to have further debates, but I thought it important that we should have one as soon as possible after the elections. I think that we would all welcome Nelson Mandelas comments last night denouncing Mugabe and the Zimbabwean regime as a total failure of leadership.
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