Previous Section Index Home Page

One of our aims is to improve democratic accountability in local communities. The policing and crime reduction Bill will do that by giving people further opportunities
26 Jun 2008 : Column 568
to control the way in which their local community is policed. Although I recognise that the law applies nationally, my hon. Friend’s constituency in Wolverhampton is very different from mine in County Durham, so a different policing approach is appropriate.

I hope that my hon. Friend will feel that the saving gateway Bill promotes fairness and equality, which he was pressing the Government to take into greater account.

My hon. Friend mentioned his concerns about housing. One can be sceptical about the theory, but then see what happens in practice. In my constituency, when the tenants in Wear valley voted for the move to an arm’s length management organisation, the management of the housing improved as well as the level of resource. The involvement of tenants in the management of the housing has also significantly improved some of the communities that were suffering most from low-quality housing and local environments.

My hon. Friend said that not everyone benefited from being in a classroom for a long time. I am sure that he understands, however, that the legislation on changing the entitlements to education up to the age of 18 does not relate solely to class-based education. Entitlements to learning while having a job, or in other training environments, are also covered.

My hon. Friend spoke about what he saw as the over-egging of choice in the NHS. I would ask him to draw a distinction between different kinds of care. He has a good point—if he and I break our arm, we both want it mended, and we want it done quickly. The skills to mend one arm are much the same as those to mend another. But if he and I needed psychotherapy, it would be reasonable for us to say that we required a more personalised and individualised approach. Therefore, empowering patients in some circumstances, as the Health Minister responsible for personal care is doing, can improve the quality of care.

Finally, my hon. Friend criticised what he saw as too many re-announcements. Sometimes consultation can look like a re-announcement when it is not intended as such. For example, he saw part of the draft legislative programme as just a re-announcement of the banking reform Bill. I would say to him, however, that it is good that we had consultation on the previous banking Bill. It is good that we had a White Paper on the business rates supplement Bill. It gives more people the opportunity to have an input into the drafting of the law, and it allows stakeholders to influence the laws that particularly affect them.

The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine spoke of the importance of giving legislation its appropriate place and not seeing it as the only lever of Government policy. The point was well made, and that is what we have tried to do. I am sure the hon. Gentleman noticed that chapter 2, which refers to the main themes of the programme—economic stability, potential, handing power back to the people—combines Bills with other significant policy initiatives. Our objective was to achieve the kind of rounded approach that the hon. Gentleman wants.

The hon. Gentleman asked how long the next parliamentary year would be. The average length of a parliamentary year is 155 days, and apart from short years in which general elections take place, parliamentary years do not vary significantly in length. However, I
26 Jun 2008 : Column 569
think that the hon. Gentleman’s point was reasonable. We have made a small but significant improvement in our planning: this year we produced the draft programme before deciding on the length of the parliamentary year, which we have not always done on other occasions.

The hon. Gentleman welcomed the business rates supplement Bill, but thought that it should go further. The Bill will promote long-term growth, and should facilitate investment that will increase economic activity. He asked about co-ordination with the Scottish Executive on the marine and coastal access Bill. Ministers are fully conscious of the importance of that, and are working on it. He went through the Bills in a very systematic way, but I shall not respond to all his points, because I have dealt with some of them in responding to other Members.

Sir Robert Smith: Will the Deputy Leader of the House expand on how she sees the role of elected representatives in the policing and crime reduction Bill? Does she recognise the need for operational control of the policing function to remain with the police service itself?

Helen Goodman: Yes, that will happen. The hon. Gentleman will not have to wait too long for the Green Paper, in which he will be able to read our proposals in more detail.

Sir Robert Smith: The Deputy Leader of the House might wish to improve the proofreading of the legislative programme document. According to page 48 the Green Paper is expected in May, but according to page 18 it is expected in June. I hope we shall not have to wait too long, but it would be sensible at least to stick to the same month in a single document.

Helen Goodman: As the hon. Gentleman will realise, that probably means July.

The hon. Gentleman found the constitutional renewal Bill somewhat disappointing, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher). The Bill contains 61 reforms relating to such matters as the civil service, treaties and the role of the Attorney-General. Those are all important matters, even if they are not widely understood: they make a significant difference to the way in which the country is governed, and to the openness with which it is governed.

The hon. Gentleman made a plea for electoral reform to be included in the Bill. As I am sure he appreciates, a key element of constitutional change is a degree of consensus so that changes can be sustainable and long-lasting. I do not believe that there is that degree of consensus on electoral reform.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton congratulated my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Women and Equality on the proposed equality Bill, and spoke of the importance of promoting equality in this country. He wanted us to look at how the draft legislative programme fitted in relation to three issues: what he sees as the over-centralisation of power and the collapse of accountability, problems in the financial market, and problems in the housing market. I have already outlined some of the
26 Jun 2008 : Column 570
measures in the constitutional renewal Bill, but my right hon. Friend needs to ask himself whether it is correct to assert, as he did, that Parliament is significantly weaker now than it was 20 years ago. I am sure he is familiar with the statistics put together by Professor Cowley at Nottingham university, which demonstrate that this Parliament, the one before that and the Parliament elected in 1997 are far more assertive than Parliaments were in the previous 50 years. That is not always applauded by my colleagues in the Whips Office, but it is true. That shows that parliamentarians are taking an assertive approach to scrutinising proposed legislation.

I am sure my right hon. Friend is also aware of the significant programme of parliamentary reform that is under way. He knows that we will introduce regional Select Committees, and I hope that he knows that we are looking at the petitioning arrangements and at having an e-petitioning system. We have also opened up the EU scrutiny process. The Minister for the Cabinet Office is taking forward the practice of pre-appointment hearings for many public sector posts. While I do not know what happens in the other political parties, the truth is that Labour Select Committee members are not chosen by the Whips; there is a negotiation with the elected committee of the parliamentary party. I am not saying that we have a perfect Parliament and that we do not need to make further reforms, but it is right to acknowledge the good things that have been happening in recent and current Parliaments.

My right hon. Friend talked about empowerment and citizens juries, and about the role of the Attorney-General. Ministers are, of course, primarily responsible for maintaining national security, so it is reasonable for there to be an exception in respect of the involvement of the Attorney-General in national security cases. The benefit of the proposed legislation is that the conduct of such cases will be clearer and more transparent.

My right hon. Friend talked about the banking reform legislation. He displayed a far greater expertise in, and understanding of, all the different financial instruments that are used internationally than I have, so I cannot say that I know exactly how all the points he made will be addressed. However, we will pass Members’ suggestions on different Bills to the relevant Departments.

My right hon. Friend also talked about inequality and his concern about the level of pay and bonuses in the City, which he feels have reached irresponsible levels. I hope that he saw the remarks of the Governor of the Bank of England to the Treasury Committee a couple of weeks ago.

My right hon. Friend referred to the current significant housing need, and his interest in the forthcoming housing Green Paper. I hope that in addition to his appreciation of the equality Bill, he will be pleased to see that legislation will be introduced on agency workers and on the right to request flexible working time.

My right hon. Friend was right to say that the Opposition seem to be opposed to building more council housing, and he pointed to the need for a significant increase in affordable housing. In fact, the Opposition seem to be opposed to most house building.

Sir Robert Smith: The Government might not be opposed in principle to house building, but how committed are they to council house building?


26 Jun 2008 : Column 571

Helen Goodman: One of the new flexibilities will look at council house building, as well as building in the housing association sector.

My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North made an excellent speech about the importance of economic stability and fairness. She spoke particularly eloquently about the Education and Skills Bill—in fact, she spoke so eloquently that I cannot really add anything to what she said. She was absolutely right, however, about the importance of giving young people better advice on what is available to them. That was brought home to me when I discovered that 1,200 different apprenticeship courses are now available from employers, which really is remarkable.

My hon. Friend also talked about the importance of the equality Bill and about the fantastic work that Val Price has done in supporting Labour women in coming into this House. I echo absolutely what she said. Val Price was a remarkable woman who was always supportive when we were in our darkest hours and unsure about how the future would turn out.

My hon. Friend also talked about the importance of tolerance in a more diverse society, but she did not, unfortunately, refer to the proposals on breastfeeding. I was a little disappointed about that. The other day, my teenage son was in the National Gallery, in the room with the early Italian paintings. As you are well aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, there are lots of paintings of the Madonna feeding the child. There was a woman in
26 Jun 2008 : Column 572
the gallery feeding her child, and the attendant said to her, “You must not do that in here—this is totally unacceptable.” So she unlatched her baby, and the baby began to scream. The attendant came back and said, “Can’t you make that child be quiet?” The tolerance that my hon. Friend is looking for would be very welcome for every generation.

I am about to close today’s debate, but consideration of the programme is not over. We are already receiving comments and feedback on the website, and people can give evidence until 6 August. There will be national events across the country on 11 July to enable people to have their say on where they think the draft programme should go. This draft programme contains 18 important Bills. It demonstrates that the Government remain committed to the key issues that matter to people: economic stability, making the most of potential, improved public services and handing power back to the people. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

adjournment

Resolved,

Adjourned accordingly at eighteen minutes past Four o’clock.


    Index Home Page