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Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): When can we have a debate on support for carers and the carers allowance? Although the increase in the earnings threshold to £95 was welcome, it remains the case that for every £1 increase above the threshold carers lose the whole allowance. That means that they can end up more than £40 a week worse off. They also lose the allowance when they retire, although they have to continue their caring role. Surely it is not beyond the wit of Government to come up with a more sensible system to ensure that carers continue to be supported when their circumstances change.
Ms Harman: In raising the question of financial support for those who do the important work of caring for older and disabled relatives, my hon. Friend puts the spotlight on the element of that support that remains unsatisfactory. It is being kept under review by the Department for Work and Pensions and, in particular, by the Carers Commission. We want people who are caring for family members not to suffer financially as a result, and not to have to give up their jobs because they are worse off if they stay at work.
We are proceeding with a range of activities following consultation on the carers review. The carers allowance is being specifically reviewed, and I shall bring my hon. Friends comments to the attention of those who are conducting the review.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): The Leader of the House will have noted the grave concern about the future of Post Office card accounts during topical questions today, and will be aware of it from experience in her constituency. It is important for the House to have a chance to express its view in a proper debate before a final decision is made. I appreciate that it may well not happen next week, but will the right hon. and learned Lady guarantee that before the decision is made we have a full debate on the Floor of the House?
The right hon. Gentleman raised the important question of the contract for the Post Office card accounts. As I explained during last weeks business questions, a procurement process is under way and it would not be right for me, as a Minister, to comment on it. All I can do is report to the right hon. Gentleman, as I did last week, that the Post Office says it is making a vigorous bid for the contract. I do not think that a debate in the House would necessarily facilitate the process of awarding that contract; I think that everyone concerned is well aware of Members views.
Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): The BBC is launching a streaming service whereby BBC 1 will be available on the internet. Although the technological advance is entirely welcome, does the Leader of the House agree that there is a fear in the internet community that institutions and individuals with internet access but no television sets will suddenly be forced to buy television licences even though they have no interest in watching television? Will she draw the matter to the attention of ministerial colleagues, so that either we can have a debate or a clear statement can be made by the BBC or the Department for Culture, Media and Sport?
Ms Harman: I think that through his question my hon. Friend has shown himself to a member of the internet community. I know of his long-standing interest in the internet. He has raised an important point about what might be an unintended consequence, and I shall bring it to the attention of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. I shall also ask the Department to write to him, and to place a copy of the letter in the House of Commons Library.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): May we have a debate on the economy? The Leader of the House will recall that we used to have regular debates on the subject in Government time, one of which used to take place in July. However, they have died away. We had no debate on the Chancellors pre-Budget report last November, for instance. Given the widespread concern about the direction and performance of the United Kingdom economy, is it not time that we revived the tradition of debating it in Government time?
Ms Harman: As the House will know, we have debated economic issues during the passage of the Finance Bill, but I am aware that that is not the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making. I am also aware of the concern that although days of debate routinely follow the Budget, no such days of debate follow the innovation of the pre-Budget report.
Bearing in mind that we have provided a days debate for the draft legislative programme but have not reduced the number of days of debate that follow the Queen's Speech, we are considering whether it might be possible to find time to debate the pre-Budget report by adjusting the number of days available for debating the Queen's Speech. We need to discuss the issue through the usual channels and with the shadow Leader of the House and other Members, and I shall be happy to do that. If we are to add extra days of debate on the economy, we shall have to take them away from somewhere else. We therefore need to discuss the way in which we order our priorities, and I am happy to share that discussion with Members.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that this June was the first Gypsy Roma Traveller history month, which was supported by the Government and which had the aim of educating the public about the long history of Gypsies and Travellers in this country. Is she aware of the success of that month? I attended several events, which were very lively and full of peoplethe public, Gypsies and Travellers together. Will she arrange a debate to consider that history months effectiveness in reducing prejudice?
Ms Harman: The Government have been pleased to support that history month, and I thank my hon. Friend for telling us about the success of the events in her constituency and more widely in Wales. I will draw those matters to the attention of the Secretary of State for Wales.
Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD):
Will the Leader of the House make parliamentary time available to discuss the proposal to establish a national bioethics commission? Many Members had hoped that we would be able to raise that issue during the discussions on the Human
Fertilisation and Embryology Bill a week on Monday, but it seems that the Bill is too tightly drawn for us to be able to force a discussion or amend it in that way. The UK is unique in western Europe in not having such a standing committee, and it would help us as legislators to have independent advice from an expert committee that looks at these issues in the round.
Ms Harman: Responsibility for the important question of bioethics crosses the Select Committees that deal with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Department of Health. We are keeping the matter under review. We must have a proper focus in the House for the important scrutiny and consideration of bioethics, and I know that a number of Members have raised the question of how we can ensure that. I do not have anything specific to announce to the hon. Lady on this, but I will take into account that it is an issue of concern to her and let her know if there is any progress.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I was recently contacted by a constituent who wanted to get a copy of her birth certificate online. She visited a website called govcertificates.co.uk which she assumed was a Government website. It was not, however; it was a scam, where official information that people can get hold of fairly cheaply from Government websites is resold at a much increased price. Will my right hon. and learned Friend investigate, and hopefully close down, that operation, and may we also investigate more generally how such scams involving Government information work? I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) in calling for a debate on these issues, to see what progress we can make in tackling this type of scam and attempt to rip off consumers.
Ms Harman: Once again, my hon. Friend has reminded us that fraud is not a victimless crime and people lose out as a result of it. I will draw his point to the attention of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and I will ensure that the Home Office establishes that the Serious Fraud Office and local police know about this and are able to take action swiftly, if it has not already been taken.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The right hon. and learned Lady has announced the business for Tuesday, which includes consideration of the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Bill and the allocation of time motion. Does she understand that I do not belong to the cosy consensus? I am extremely worried about this matter. It is quite wrong that the Bill has not yet been published, and that it will pass through all its parliamentary stages on Tuesday. Does she not recognise that that is a case of a Bill being pushed through the House? That is wrong in principle. The public will not have an opportunity to make representations, and we will find it very difficult to amend the Bill. Surely this is government by decree and legislation by officials, not by parliamentary government?
I do not think any Member of this House is under the impression that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is anything to do with anything cosy at all, and he is often nothing to do with anything
to do with consensus either. I said in my initial remarks that all Members who have an interest in thisnot just those involved in the usual channelsshould contact the Ministry of Justice. I will tell the Secretary of State for Justice that the right hon. and learned Gentlemanwho is extremely learned in matters of law and knowledgeable about these issues, and who has no doubt read and understood the judgmentwould like to talk to him about how the Bills proposals will work. I understand that the Bill has just been published, so the right hon. and learned Gentleman will have a chance to look at it. However, let me remind him and other Members that this situation is not of our choosing. It is never a good thing to have to take decisions that affect the criminal justice system in a hurry. We are doing this expeditiously because of the court decision; otherwise, certain prisoners might be allowed to be released on appeal, or prosecutors reviewing cases might be required to drop those cases and it will not be possible to bring offenders who have committed crimes to justicecrimes will go unpunished and victims will be left in the lurch.
Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): During the debates on the Lisbon treaty, I warned the House that the European Commission had a clandestine plan that would undermine the clinical priorities of the NHS by promoting what has become known as health tourism. I also predicted that the plan would not see the light of day until after the House had ratified the treaty, and so it proved. However, even I was surprised that it decided to announce that on the 60th anniversary of the NHS. May we now have a topical debate on the unelected Commissions meddling in political affairs in this country and in NHS matters?
Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The Government remain committed to ensuring that where UK patients choose to travel abroad for care, the NHS retains the ability to decide what care it will fund. We have to make sure that the NHS makes the decisions, rather than their simply being made by people who have enough money to go abroad doing so to get treatment that otherwise would not be acceptable on the NHS. The current proposal is an initial text. It will be subject to change during future negotiations at EU level. The UK will be an important player in those negotiations, and we will work to ensure that the right legislative framework is developed. I will bring my hon. Friends comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.
Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire) (Con): With reference to this afternoons business, how can the Government set up an independent review body on Members pay and then totally fail to back its recommendations?
Ms Harman: If the hon. Gentleman attends the debate this afternoon, he will hear me explaining to the House why we have tabled a resolution setting out the Government position, part of which is the same as Sir John Bakers proposals, but part of which is different.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab):
May we have a debate on the Law Lords decision to deny victims of pleural plaques the appropriate compensation? My right hon. and learned Friend will
be aware that we are rapidly approaching the first anniversary of that decision, and despite assurances from the Justice Secretary and other senior Ministers, there is no tangible evidence that progress is being made. My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that this is a disease that affects white, working-class, middle-aged men and women. The Justice Secretary must be reminded that this needs to be given some priority, in order to make sure that they get the compensation they are entitled to.
Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this matter to the attention of the House. Those who during the course of their working lifeworking hardcontract a horrible and devastating disease deserve, at the very least, the appropriate compensation. He has drawn to the Houses attention how long ago the Law Lords decision was handed down. He will know that the Government have undertaken to consult on how we should respond to the Law Lords decision, but I very much take on board his point that he wants us to get on with it, and I will make sure that ministerial colleagues in the relevant Departments understand that message loud and clear.
[That this House expresses concern at reports of the closure of churches and the detention of Christians in Algeria; expresses particular concern at the case of Hanina Konider, a 37 year old Algerian woman facing prosecution as a result of being in possession of copies of the Bible; and urges the Government to raise this case and other cases of persecution of Christians in Algeria in the course of the discussions on the proposed Union for the Mediterranean due to commence in Paris on 13th July.]
This early-day motion has been signed by 58 Members. On 13 July there is to be a meeting in Paris to discuss the proposed EU union of the Mediterranean. Will the Leader of the House specifically request the UK representation at that meeting to raise the question of the persecution of Christians in Algeria and the case of this unfortunate woman, and also to promote the case for freedom of religion generally in Mediterranean countries? Surely we do not want to be in any sort of union where it is an offence to possess a copy of the Bible.
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman has made forcefully the point that is attracting support from Members in all parts of the House, in the form of his early-day motion 1930. There is no opportunity for Foreign Office questions before the House rises for the summer, so I will make sure that this issue is brought to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Foreign Office. I will ask them to write to him explaining about the forthcoming international meetings, at which they will find the opportunity to raise this issue.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op):
The successes of the 60th anniversary of the NHS at the weekend have rather overshadowed the first anniversary, on 1 July, of the end of second-hand smoke in enclosed public places and workplaces in England. Some 400,000 people have quit, there is 80 per cent. public support for the measure, and 40 per cent. of premises are recording
an increase in business. As the chair of the all-party group on smoking and health, may I ask for a debate on tobacco control, perhaps based on my own early-day motion 1835?
[That this House welcomes the publication of the Department of Health's consultation document on the future of tobacco control; believes that there is an urgent need for action to ensure that a new generation of young people do not become smokers; and calls for legislation to be included in the 2008 Queen's Speech to end all displays of tobacco products at the point of sale, to end the sale of tobacco products from vending machines and to require all tobacco products in the UK to be sold in plain packaging.]
Ms Harman: I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend has raised the issue of the effect on public health of ending smoking in public places. We need to make further progress on this important public health issue. This is definitely a job for the nanny state.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): The Leader of the House has done a great service to Members personal security by tabling the motion that will be debated later today on the non-disclosure of private home addresses. May I urge her to resist strongly any amendment that seeks to make an exception for Members home addresses in their constituencies, just on the basis that these occasionally have to be published locally? Returning to wider business, may I also request a statement from a Home Office Minister about the strange case of the suspected terrorist who went on the run last week and who was believed to have been involved in a major suicide plot, and yet whose identity could not be disclosed while he was on the run, for legal reasons? Some of us find it very strange that dangerous people could be on the run without our having a chance of catching them, because no one would know who they were or what they looked like.
Ms Harman: At first sight, the case of the person who had gone on the run but could not be named does sound a bit baffling, so I will ask a Home Office Minister to write to the hon. Gentleman, and to see whether the matter is not too secret for some light to be shed on it.
The hon. Gentlemans first point brings to the Houses attention the J. Lewis list. This is not the John Lewis list but the list of Members throughout the House who have signed his early-day motion. We have to base this issue on the security advice given to this House, which says that we should not publish our addresses, travel patterns or any information that could lead to Members being insecure and therefore unable to speak freely in this House. There will be an opportunity to debate this issue in the second of this afternoons debates. I know that the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) has tabled an amendment, but I hope that he will not press it to a vote. We simply have to act [ Interruption. ] I can now reassure the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) that the
amendment in the name of the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey has not been selected, so I will not have to do what I would have done, which is to resist it and make sure that we get this issue sorted out once and for all.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (UKIP): I know that the Leader of the House cares about the 9 million people in the UK who are deaf or hard of hearing, for whom lip-reading is an absolutely essential life skill. Could we have a debate on the Governments guidance to local authorities on the cost of lip-reading classes? Uncaring councils such as Conservative-controlled Essex county council are pricing vulnerable groups out of lip-reading classes, and I am sure that no one in this House wants to see that practice.
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point, and this is one of the reasons why we have placed a specific duty on all organisations in the public sector, including local authorities, not to discriminate against people on grounds of disability, and to promote equality of opportunity and inclusion. The kind of services that he has described as being put at risk by Essex county council are exactly those that allow people to play a full part in the economy, by going out to work, and in the life of the community. I will raise this issue with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and see what it has to say about it.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): May we have a debate next week on the ministerial code? If a Minister were to make a statement that the Government were not going to allow the building of housing on the green belt in eco-town proposals, but it later transpired that at the time of making that statement, the Minister was minded to allow commercial development to be built on the green belt in eco-town proposals, would the Leader of the House feel that the earlier statement was consistent with the principles of transparency and openness in the ministerial code?
Ms Harman: We chose to have a topical debate on eco-towns because many Members in all parts of the House had asked for the topic to be eco-towns. All these issues were fully debated, and if a new one has arisen since then, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman write to the Minister for Housing, my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). If the issue involves the ministerial code, perhaps he should copy in the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): I raised concerns about the new NHS dental contract with the Health Secretary this time last year. In the light of the Health Committees damning report, which confirms that access has not been improved and that dentists have no financial incentive to carry out complicated treatments, will the Leader of the House make time for a specific debate on NHS dentistry under the reforms, given that in this afternoons Adjournment debate on the NHS in general, this issue may well be lost?
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