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I congratulate the staff at Great Western hospital and throughout the national health service on tackling hospital-acquired infectionthat is important
work. The 60th anniversary of the national health service is an opportunity to pay tribute to its entire staff team, who have kept it going even when it was under-resourced and struggling, and to pay tribute to their work under the leadership of Ara Darzi. Two thousand clinicians have been involved in shaping a consultation paper for the way forward. I hope that we can not only thank all staff in the NHS for their work but invite them to help us to shape the way forward for the future of the NHS.
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Does the Minister acknowledge the severity of the crisis in the housing industry, where leading private house builders are going bust, sacking 40 per cent. of their workers and dragging down the banks because they have an excess of unsold private houses? Will the Government therefore build up their sensible but pathetically small programme for acquiring property and give genuine freedom to councils and housing associations to acquire property in order to let it out to the 1.7 million people in housing need on waiting lists?
Ms Harman: I agree with the hon. Gentleman: the situation in the housing market is a grave cause for concern. That is why the Government have taken action and will take more. That is why we have ensured that the Bank of England has £50 billion to help with the liquidity situation; why we are building more social homes; why we are giving £200 million to the Housing Corporation so that it can buy houses that have been built but have not been able to be sold; and why we are helping first-time buyers by reducing stamp duty. I think that he would agree that the most important thing for housing for the future is to ensure that people can stay in their jobs, that employment remains high, and that inflation and interest rates remain low, and that is what we will attempt to do.
Dr. Cable: I acknowledge that the Housing Corporation proposal is a good one, but it is a drop in the ocean. Can the Government not get their priorities right? Instead of the Prime Minister lecturing us on what we should eat for dinner, and competing with the leader of the Conservative party to be the countrys weight watcher-in-chief, should he not acknowledge that we have a deep crisis in the British housing marketprobably the worst in our lifetimewhich is leading into a serious recession? It is time that the Government accepted responsibility for dealing with it.
Ms Harman: I agree that the situation is serious, but I do not agree that it is like it was in the 1990s. The hon. Gentleman should acknowledge that it is important that we keep employment rates high and that we keep interest rates low. Those who are working hard in the construction industry, and in small and big businesses across the country, do not want the official Opposition, or any Opposition Members, to be talking the economy down at this point. Confidence is important.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab):
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that violent crime involving young people in London is one of the most important issues that confronts the capital? London MPs are contacting the Home Secretary, asking her to take the initiative and bring communities across London together, including
young people, to discuss ways of solving this problem. They are doing that because of the woefully inadequate response of the Mayor of London. He was elected on a campaign that highlighted 23 deaths last yearwhat looked like a slick campaign now looks like a very sick campaign. As a fellow London MP, will my right hon. and learned Friend contact the Home Secretary, to bring together communities across London to find a solution to this very important problem?
Ms Harman: My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will do exactly that. We all recognise that there is a serious problem with more young people, at ever younger ages, carrying knives in the street. It is a particular problem, as my hon. Friend said, in London and in my constituency. My constituents know that it is important that we have the right laws and that they are toughly enforced, and beyond that, that we work together to support parents, teachers, local communities and the local police. We have to tackle what we recognise is a growing and grave problem.
Q2.  Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): Millions of pensioners have chosen to collect their pensions through the card account at their post office. The contract for the card account must stay with the Post Office after 2010 and should not be given to PayPoint or the banks. When Ministers are asked about the matter, they keep waffling on about commercial issues and legalities. Will the Government please understand that the only organisation with a rural and island network is the Post Office? Will the Government stop dithering, act decisively and give the contract to the Post Office?
Ms Harman: Strict rules apply to public procurement, and rightly so. As a Minister, I could not be expected to comment in the middle of a contract procurement, but I can remind the House that the Post Office says that it has put in a strong bid for the Post Office card account. I would also remind the hon. Gentleman that this Government have put in unprecedented sums of public money to support the post office network, and we will continue to do so.
Q3.  Mr. John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): Given the settled view of Parliament and the public that fox hunting should be banned, is my right hon. and learned Friend surprised that some are still suggesting that they should try to overturn that ban? Can she reassure me that that is not the policy of this Government, and in her reply, could she tempt the Opposition spokesman to make clear what his partys policy is?
Ms Harman: I know that the Leader of the Opposition wants to repeal the ban on fox hunting. This House decided, on a free vote, that fox hunting was cruel and should be banned. I voted in favour of that, and we all want to see the ban properly enforced.
Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): Since the Prime Ministers main message on the way to the G8 was indeed not to waste food, does the Leader of the House agree that it is important for Departments to set an example on these things as well?
Ms Harman: Yes, it is important for Departments to set an example, but whoever the Prime Minister might look to for dietary advice, the last person would be someone who thinks that a good diet is 18 pints a day.
Is it not astonishing, given the Prime Ministers comments, that expenditure at the Treasuryto take a Department at randomon hospitality, including food, in the period when the Prime Minister was Chancellor of the Exchequer more than trebled? Is not that a spectacular case of preaching one rule to the country and practising another behind the closed doors of government?
Mr. Hague: Maybe the Leader of the House can agree with this: is there not something supremely ironic about being lectured about food waste by a Prime Minister who is past his sell-by date? Is not that yet another example of treating people like fools, and of preaching prudence but practising profligacy and waste? Is not that why the whole country is sick of the Prime Minister, and may I speak for the whole House in wishing the right hon. and learned Lady well in her campaign to be rid of him?
Ms Harman: The right hon. Gentleman should not underestimate the Prime Minister, a man of true grit and determination, who will see the country through the difficult circumstances. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind comments about me, but his suggestion is not possible because there are not enough airports for all the men who would want to flee the country.
Q4.  Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): In 2020, it looks as though the Chinese economy will overtake the American economy. Yet, ironically, China is not represented in the G8 in Tokyo today. Given that the G8 may expand to become the G14 or the G22 and that we also have the OECD, does it make sense for there to be a merger between the G8or G14 or G22and the OECD in the near future?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point. As he knows, the Prime Minister is taking a leading part in the discussions in the G8 today. In Japan today, the G8 is talking to more countries, including China, Brazil, South Africa, India and Mexico as it looks to widen the outreach of its policies in the world. We can expect that approach, in which the Prime Minister will take a lead, to continue in future.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): My constituency files include two particular cases of serious crimes for which the victims deserve our sympathy and support. Will the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister to look into them, and in the process explain why, when our prisons are full to bursting, public finances are under pressure and others are being released early, the two prisoners in those cases are set to join more than 700 others on indeterminate sentences, who are serving more than their sentence tariff and have no prospect of getting into the institutions or on to the courses that will help them reform and enable them to be safely released?
I will bring the individual cases that the hon. Gentleman raised to the Prime Ministers attention. However, we must recognise that we need to take a tough approach to crime, and we have done that. Crime
has fallen since we came into government, and more criminals are being caught and sent to prison for longer terms. That is why we have increased the prison building programme. As well as sending those who have committed offences to prison, we need to try to ensure that, while they are there, they are rehabilitated so that when they leave, they do not commit further offences.
Q5.  Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South) (Lab): Does my right hon. and learned Friend feel some concern about the loss of bursaries and grants to low-income students, if the income of a new partner of their parent is taken into account? Will she condemn the impact of that on thousands of students in Scotland, as a result of Scottish National Administration policy?
Ms Harman: The leader of the Scots nats in Holyrood does not turn up much in this House, although he continues to be a Member and draw his salary. I had the opportunity to see him talking about this issue on television earlier this week. It is absolutely clear that he does not intend to keep his promises on student support, that he does not intend to keep his promises on police numbers and that he does not intend to keep his policies on reducing class sizes. So, scarcely a year after the election, why should anyone trust the SNP with any of its promises?
Q6.  Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): The Prime Minister knows, because I met him recently to discuss it, that second home purchases outstrip first-time buyers in my area by a factor of three to one. Can the Leader of the House tell us how much it will cost this year to fund the capital gains tax breaks for second home purchases? Does she acknowledge that the thousands of families who are desperate to gain their first home will effectively contribute to that benefit through the abolition of the 10p rate?
Ms Harman: I shall get the Chancellor to write to the hon. Gentleman with those specific figures. One of the things that is very important for first-time buyers, in addition to the points that I made in reply to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), is that we need to have more house building in this country. That is why we have brought forward our plans for eco-towns. I hope that the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) and other hon. Members who are concerned about the opportunities for first-time buyers will back those plans.
Q7.  Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Portsmouth, North) (Lab/Co-op): As we celebrate the 60th birthday of the NHS, will my right hon. and learned Friend join me in congratulating everybody who is celebrating their 60th birthday this year, including Fran Fox from Portsmouth, who not only shares the birthday of the NHS, but has worked for the NHS for 40 years? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the hard-working staff are the backbone of the NHS and how does she think it will best survive the next 60 years?
I would like to send my congratulations, through my hon. Friend, to Fran Fox, working in the health service in her constituency. The way that we can best ensure the future of the national health service is to
ensure that we build on the commitment and dedication that the NHS staff have shown over many decades and that we help them carry on with their remarkable work.
Q8.  Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): Most coups take place when the leader is abroad, as my party is only too aware. Given the Prime Ministers absence today, what help does the right hon. and learned Lady need?
Ms Harman: What we are concerned about is this. We are in government in order [ Interruption. ] The hon. Gentleman might be in Parliament to ask daft questions, but we are in government in order to understand the concerns that families in every constituency are facing, to recognise the problems and to address them. That is what we are focused on and that is what we will get on with doing.
Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend will know that this week we are celebrating 30 years of successful in vitro fertilisation. She will also know that the celebration is somewhat less than it should be, because National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidelines are not being put in place on fertility treatment. Only nine primary care trusts are putting them in place; shamefully, 143 are offering either less treatment or none at all. Will she do all that she can to ensure the full implementation of NICE guidelines, accepting, as every Member of this House does, that all that those people want is to have a happy family?
Ms Harman: I congratulate my hon. Friend on her work as chair of the all-party group on infertility. She has always made it clear that infertility treatment should be available for everyone and not just for those who can afford it, and that its provision on the NHS is important. We recognise that there are inequalities in provision, however. We are monitoring the provision by primary care trusts, and that is something that we need to take forward. This is about peoples right to a family life, and there should not be a postcode lottery.
Q9.  Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): I have heard Ministers, and even the Prime Minister, saying many times that there would be no further expansion of Heathrow unless the proposals met strict environmental limits. Will the right hon. and learned Lady therefore tell us why her Government are asking for a derogation on air quality because they cannot meet the air quality controls around London?
Ms Harman: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport reminds me that we have set out a range of issues, including carbon emissions and air quality, in a number of detailed technical documents for public scrutiny and consultation. We have received many thousands of responses to that consultation, and we will make a decision in due course. In relation to the policy of the official Opposition, half of them are in favour of such proposals because they want economic expansion, while the other half are totally against them. We are ensuring that we build the economy while also protecting the environment.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab):
Members on both sides of the House will welcome the tough leadership
that the Prime Minister has shown at the G8 on Zimbabwe. I believe that the House is united on that issue. However, there are a number Zimbabweans in Britain who are unable to return to Zimbabwe but who have no source of income. Will my right hon. and learned Friend discuss with the Home Secretary whether it would be possible to give Zimbabweans who are trapped in Britain the right to work in order to earn an income, before they return to Zimbabwe when that country is free?
Ms Harman: My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary says that she will be having meetings about precisely that issue this afternoon. I can reassure my hon. Friend that there will not be any forced removals to Zimbabwe during the current situation. Further to that, the Prime Minister has been leading on the question of seeking to ensure that the votes of people in Zimbabwe at the election, which has been denied by Robert Mugabe, will be respected. Following the discussions at the G8, which has sent forward a strong message about Zimbabwe, further action will be taken at the UN shortly.
Q10.  John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): Why have this Labour Government chosen to continue the work of the previous Conservative Government this summer, with their plans to decimate the post office network in the city of Edinburgh?
Ms Harman: I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the previous Conservative Government did not put one penny of public money into the post office network, so we are absolutely not continuing their work. On the contrary, we have put £2 billion of public funds into the network already, and we will put in £1.7 billion more in order to sustain the important post office network.
Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will agree that Fathers 4 Justice does its case absolutely no good by engaging in the thuggery and ridiculous actions that are now taking place. Will she and the rest of the House condemn it and say that it is never going to get its way if it behaves in such a vile manner?
Q11.  Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): May I associate Opposition Members with the remarks that have been made?On the national health service, the Labour party was the third party to agree with the Beveridge proposals. Now, the national health service probably employs more part-timers who will be affected by the 10p tax rate abolition than any other organisation. When are the Government going to ensure that part-time people, especially women, and including those in the health service, get the compensation that the Prime Minister has said will come to them?
As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the Chancellor has already set out the package of £2.7 billion, which will help 22 million people. That will go not only to those who lost out through the abolition of the 10p rate, but also more widely. The thing that has most helped low-paid workers, particularly those who work
part time, is the national minimum wage, which the hon. Gentleman voted against.
Q12.  Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab):
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many working mens clubs and other private clubs in communities up and down the country are struggling, not least because of recently passed legislation that is well-meaning but is nevertheless having a detrimental effect on their operations? Will she agree to convene a
meeting of relevant Ministers with the all-party group to discuss how we can keep these clubs as a force for good at the centre of all our communities?
Ms Harman: I will agree to convene a meeting such as my hon. Friend proposes. I agree that clubs are often at the very heart of their communities and we want to do all we can to support them. In fact, I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to take that meeting forward.
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