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Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman has done more than anybody to ensure that there can be proper, open debate in this House without Members looking over their shoulders because their addresses have been put on the House of Commons website. We are grateful to him for his work. However, I am sure that he will agree that it is unlikely in the extreme that I could be in a conspiracy with The Sunday Telegraph against him in that respect. Indeed, I would be happy to be in a conspiracy with him against The Sunday Telegraph on the issue. We will bring forward a statutory instrument under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 that will provide that the House authorities are not required to disclose Members addresses or any information that could lead to the identification of their addresses. That statutory instrument will be restricted to the House authorities. The hon. Gentleman also raised an important point about the publication of addresses in respect of nomination, standing for election and electoral registration, which is a separate issue, but one that we need to look at, too.
Mr. Siôn Simon (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House start talks on a new kind of Opposition day, on which the House can scrutinise the abuse and misapplication by Tory, Liberal Democrat and nationalist councils throughout the country of Labour Government legislation? That could include, for example, the cynical abuse and misapplication of progressive single status legislation by the Tory-Liberal council in Birmingham in order to cut the pay of low-paid workers and clobber the pensions of low-paid council employees.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Referring to the question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), will the Leader of the House, who also chairs the Modernisation Committee, consult on the recommendations that were passed on the strength of her vote and in spite of the votes of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat members of the Committee? A huge sum of moneymore than £2.25 millionis involved in the implementation of that decision. Apparently, we can find that amount quite easily, even though many other desirable projects cannot be resourced. Will she consult other parties in the House prior to our having a debate on the matter? I believe that it needs further consideration, because the majority of the evidence was against the recommendationswhich, when all is said and done, are also Government policy.
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman and I listened to the evidence that was put before the Modernisation Committee. He formed one view after listening to the evidence, and I formed another. If there is no agreement in a Committee, the matter has to be decided on a vote, and we all voted. The Government could simply have brought the proposals straight to the House, without taking them through the Modernisation Committee. However, I believe that it was right to take them through the Committee for proper scrutiny of the evidence. In the end, there was no agreement in the Committee, but the matter will come to the House to be decided on.
Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): Folk in South Yorkshire will never forget that they suffered the loss of a quarter of their local economy, involving hundreds of thousands of jobs, and suffered catastrophic reductions in investment and skills when the Conservatives were last in power. May we have a debate on the importance of the investment in skills? Despite the present economic downturn, such investment will be critical in securing our long-term economic growth.
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend will know that, in the draft legislative programme, we have more provision for improving peoples skills, for more apprenticeships and for raising the education leaving age to 18. She is right to say that the most important thing, not only for individual opportunity but for the strength of the economy, is investment in the skills of our people. That is why the Conservatives suggestion that we did not mend the roof while the sun was shining is so ridiculous. Our sustained investment in education and skills is what has put our economy in the best possible position to weather the difficult economic storms that are coming to us internationally.
Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): The Leader of the House will be well aware of the problems that binge drinking causes to local communities, to the police and to the health service. Is she also aware that voluntary measures taken by pubs and clubs to reduce cheap drink offers such as happy hours and two-for-one offers have now hit the buffers because they have run up against competition legislation? Is she equally aware that her own licensing Minister has now cast doubt on whether the Government intend to take action to introduce minimum pricing, so as to reduce the amount of ridiculously cheap booze on offer in our supermarkets and off-licences? May we have a debate on booze Britain, so that we can hear the Governments plans for tackling this serious problem in all our communities?
Ms Harman: These are issues not only for licensing but for supermarkets and off-licences, for the Health Department and for the Home Office. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will find an opportunity before the House rises for the recess to raise these important issues, either at Health questions or at Home Office questions, which will be held next week.
Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): The massive hike in domestic electricity prices and mains gas utility bills has caused grave hardship to many families and households. My right hon. and learned Friend might be aware that many of those who are not connected to mains gas have experienced even greater hardship, through the increases in the price of alternative fuels such as oil and liquefied petroleum gas. May we have a debate on extending the gas mains to make it viable for those people to be connected? Many of those properties lie just a few hundred yards from a gas main. This would help to alleviate fuel poverty and give people greater choice. We should also look at the differentials between the price of mains and non-mains electricity and gas.
I will raise my hon. Friends important point with the Secretary of State for Wales and the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory
Reform. He might also like to raise the issue in Westminster Hall, because I imagine that a number of other Members are in the same situation.
Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con): The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recently made a statement in the House on bovine TB. There is now great uncertainty throughout the United Kingdom about where we go from here. The Secretary of State announced that we needed to spend more time and money on researching a vaccine and ways in which a vaccine could be administered. There was not time to question him to the degree required, in order to find out exactly where we were going. May we therefore have a debate in Government time to discuss this important issue? Thousands of badgers, thousands of cattle and hundreds of thousands of people are going to be affected by this decision for years to come, yet we still have no exact guidelines on where we are going.
Ms Harman: On Monday, following extensive consultation and scientific evidence, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs set out his decision and the basis for that decision. Hon. Members were able to ask him questions, but if there are further questions on the important issue of vaccination, perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to try to catch the Speakers eye at DEFRA questions on 17 July.
Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House find time for us to discuss the implementation and planning of controlled parking zones in our cities? In my constituency, a self-admittedly flawed consultation by the Tory local authority has led to flawed implementation and misery for my constituents, who cannot park anywhere near their homes. May we have a debate on how guidance can be given to local authorities so that this does not happen again?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point on behalf of her constituents. Being able to park is important for parents ferrying children around, for people going about their work and, particularly, for disabled people. I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to write to my hon. Friend and place a copy of the letter in the House of Commons Library.
Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): Will the Leader of the House please consider finding time for an urgent debate on the latest manifestation of rip-off Britain, particularly the practices of companies, such as BT, which choose to charge their customers a premium if they decide not to use the companys preferred method of payment? Does she agree that that is sharp practice on a grand scale and that it deserves the condemnation of Members on both sides of the House?
Ms Harman: That is possibly a matter that I could draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and ask him to write to the hon. Gentleman. It might also be a subject for a debate on the Adjournment of the House.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab):
My right hon. and learned Friend might recall that earlier in the year I raised the question of Network Rail track maintenance and the serious problems that occurred over Christmas.
Clearly, there are serious ongoing track maintenance problems, in management, in how the work is undertaken and relating to costs. That is exemplified by what has been happening on Thameslink. Last night, there was a track failure and trains were not going through the centre of London. This morning, there was a power failure and trains were delayed. At weekends, the trains do not run through central London; we frequently have a five-day railway rather than a seven-day railway. Could we have a full debate on precisely what we do about track maintenance and the way in which Network Rail undertakes it, and consider in particular what used to happen under British Rail, when it was done infinitely better and much more cheaply?
Ms Harman: Perhaps my hon. Friend could put on record during the pre-recess Adjournment debate the concerns that he is championing on behalf of his constituents. There is a great deal of concern about this matter, and those responsible for track maintenance could then take the opportunity to listen to what other hon. Members have to say about it.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May we have a debate on the Lord Chief Justices politically correct comments on sharia law, particularly in relation to todays comments from the Centre for Islamic Pluralism? It states:
For non-Muslim authorities to propose the introduction of Sharia as a legal standard for Muslims in any non-Muslim land is not only absurdly patronising and discriminatory, but also violates the canons of traditional Sharia law. Sharia law has always held that Muslims emigrating to non-Muslim lands are obliged to accept the laws of customs of their new homes.
The Lord Chief Justices comments have done an awful lot of damage to community cohesion and to the principle of integration in this country. May we have a debate so that we can undo the damage that his comments have done?
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a debate on safeguarding the future of commercial vehicle production in the UK, with specific reference to the emergence of option appraisals on downgrading or terminating the production of transit vehicles at the Ford Southampton plant, which is widely acknowledged to be one of the most efficient vehicle production plants in Europe?
Ms Harman: Motor manufacturing in Britain, including of transit vehicles, is very important, so I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to seek a meeting with my hon. Friend to discuss how best to take the matter forward.
Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con):
May we have a debate in Government time on the postcode lottery that operates on health care spending? Last year, residents of the East Riding of Yorkshire had nearly £200 less spent on their health care than the residents of neighbouring Hull. Why is it that those
who live in remote, sparsely populated rural areas do not get a fair share of funding, whether it be on social care, transport or education as well as health?
Ms Harman: We had a debate on health last week, so the hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to raise those points then. There will also be Health questions on 22 July before the House rises for the recess. The hon. Gentleman will know that his constituents, like those of all MPs, have benefited from a large increase in resources made available to the national health service. I hope that his constituentsthose using the health service and those providing itwill have an opportunity to participate in the consultation on how we improve the quality of care in all constituencies on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the NHS.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): One piece of business that we are all looking forward to is the debate on Lords amendments to the Counter-Terrorism Bill, especially after the monstering that the 42-day proposal received from the former head of MI5, Dame Manningham-Buller. Given the chorus of disapproval of these proposals and the fact that we know that, contrary to what the Government have said, the public are overwhelminglyby two thirdsopposed to them, is it going to take a Government defeat before these daft and dangerous proposals are withdrawn?
Ms Harman: The Governments responsibility is to ensure that everyone is safe from terrorism and that civil liberties are protected. We have set forth our views on how the Counter-Terrorism Bill will do just that. Of course, we also introduced the Human Rights Act 1998, which provides a backstop for guarantees on human rights. We have put our views forward in this House and they are now being considered in the other place. No doubt Ministers, Government Back Benchers and others will make their arguments as the Bill passes through there.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): May I congratulate the Leader of the House on her superb performance as acting Prime Minister yesterday and, indeed, on the previous occasion when she did the same? With the Prime Minister under such great pressure and now apparently comparing himself to fictitious characters, will the Leader of the House tell us who would stand in as Prime Minister if he were temporarily incapacitated? Would it be her?
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Bournemouth borough council on securing an air festival from 28 to 31 August this summer, which will include displays by the Red Arrows? As the website says, it is
by the sea and completely free!
It will certainly be a boost to British domestic tourism. On that note, however, is the Leader of the House aware of the report issued today by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which is very critical of the
Governments involvement in and support for British tourism? Indeed, the press release says that the Government are
failing to give the necessary support to UK tourism.
Ms Harman: The tourism industry is indeed important, not just for those who come from abroad but for those who take their holidays in this country. The hon. Gentleman will know of a number of initiatives that the Government have taken on seaside towns and tourism in the rest of the country. We are considering the Select Committee report and we will respond to it in due course.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): In these economically challenging times when many families are facing straitened circumstances, may we have a statement from the Department for Children, Schools and Families on why families in receipt of working tax credit are not able to claim free school meals for their children, while many other benefit recipients are able to?
Ms Harman: If the hon. Gentleman wants to raise that issue, he could do so when we next consider legislation dealing with benefits or children. We want to make sure that we provide as much support for low-income families as possible, which is why we introduced the tax credit system. Unfortunately, the hon. Gentlemans party is committed to abolishing it. We also introduced the national minimum wage, which again Conservative Members voted against. He can rest assured that we are looking to do all we can to support low-income families. One of the most important considerations is ensuring that the economy remains as stable as possible so that we maintain high levels of employment and people can go out to work and earn their living.
Dr. Ian Gibson, supported by Mr. Mike Hancock and Mr. David Amess, presented a Bill to make provision about the evaluation of methods of testing the safety of medicines; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 17 October, and to be printed [Bill 131].
Lorely Burt: The concerns we put forward in both groups of amendments revolve around democratic rights and what I believe are the rights of companies to recourse in law. The first group deals with clause 28. In essence, the amendments would remove the blanket power of primary authorities to prevent local authorities from taking the enforcement action it sees as necessary to protect the people it serves.
The substitution of the word direct for the word advise makes a subtle shift in the relationship between the primary authority and the enforcing authority. It ensures that the relationship between the two is not simply one of master and servant, but rather of two organisations working in co-operation. After all, local authorities are at the sharp end of so many of the services that we as citizens need to live our lives. It is their enforcement activities that protect us from out-of-date food, dangerously unhygienic restaurants, buying faulty or counterfeit goods or work activities that pose a serious risk to employees or the public. Local authorities are democratically run by elected representatives, so it is not for anyone or anything to dictate any action that the authority does not consider to be in the best interests of the citizens it serves.
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