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The Prime Minister is expected to make an oral statement to this House on Tuesday on Iraq or other
matters relating to the middle east. Will the right hon. and learned Lady confirm today that the Prime Minister will be making such an oral statement on Tuesday?
Let us see what it says and then we can consider how to deal with it.[ Official Report, 10 July 2008; Vol. 478, c. 1567.]
That report is published today. It reveals serious regulatory failure and calls for compensation for policyholders. The Chancellor has made a written statement today, but given that Members of all parties have constituents affected by this failure, and will want to question him on it, will the Leader of the House guarantee that the Chancellor will make a oral statement to the House on the Governments response to the ombudsmans report on Equitable Life when the House returns?
Last week, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) raised the issue of the Modernisation Committees report on regional accountability. The report was passed on the casting vote of the Chairman, the right hon. and learned Lady, who is a member of the Government. The report endorses her Governments proposals, as set out in the Green Paper, The Governance of Britain. The Committees recent report on debating departmental objectives also arose from the Governments Green Paper, as did the Committees current inquiry on the recall and dissolution of Parliament. Select Committees of this House do not exist to execute Government policy, so may we have a debate on the future role of the Modernisation Committee?
Talking of that Committee, the Leader of the House today issued an illuminating single-paragraph written statement, saying that she will publish the Governments response to the Committees report on regional accountability on Monday. As this is the last business questions before the recess, and the last real opportunity for the Leader of the House to take questions on future business, will she tell us when she intends to table the Standing Orders on regional Select Committees?
Next month I will publish a further paper setting out our proposals in greater detail.[ Official Report, 26 June 2008; Vol. 478, c. 501.]
we are reviewing the operation of topical debates...I shall report to the House before the summer recess.[ Official Report, 12 June 2008; Vol. 477, c. 462.]
a number of positive discussions...with many hon. Members.[ Official Report, 16 July 2008; Vol. 479, c. 31WS.]
Those questions can all be answered by the right hon. and learned Lady today. They are not matters on which she can pass the buck to other members of the Cabinet. They are important matters for this House and our constituents. Perhaps she should stop dreaming about becoming leader of the country, and start acting as the leader of this House.
Ms Harman: In respect of the consultation document on allowances, which I announced by way of a written ministerial statement yesterday morningwe had an opportunity to discuss these issues during an Opposition day debate yesterdayit would be preferable for us to produce the consultation document before the House rises, but I cannot guarantee that. We had an opportunity in the ministerial statement to map out the issues that will be addressed in the consultation document, and they were the subject of the debate yesterday.
The right hon. Lady mentioned that I said that I had had discussions with several hon. Members after the debate on 3 July. I would never think it right to list hon. Members to whom I spoke as Leader of the House. I discuss many issues with many hon. Members and they do not expect their names to be published for having discussions with me. Hon. Members know that I welcome discussion with anybody who wants talk to me about such issues. The discussions have been positive, which is probably more than can be said about those that the right hon. Lady held with many Conservative Members.
I intend to issue the results of our review on topical debates before the House rises for the summer recess. I will also publish the detailed paper on the Equality Bill in response to the discrimination law review before the House rises. Standing Orders for regional Committees will be placed before the House in the autumn.
The right hon. Lady made several points about the Governance of Britain proposals for the House, which the Modernisation Committee considered. We could deal with the matter in several ways: the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice could make proposals and we could simply lay them before the House for debate and agreement, or the issue could be given to the Select Committee that is responsible for considering changes in the Housethe Modernisation Committee. We think that the latter is preferable. If the right hon. Lady objects to the matter being discussed in the Modernisation Committee
Ms Harman: Indeed. We are not ideological about the matter. If something is more appropriate for the Procedure Committee to discuss, we are happy for it to go to that Committee. As a member of the Modernisation Committee, if the right hon. Lady believes that it is more appropriate to discuss some aspect of the Governance of Britain proposals in the Procedure Committee rather than the Modernisation Committee, she has only to say so and I am sure that we would be prepared to take up her suggestion.
The right hon. Lady asked about the Equitable Life report, which has been published, and I thank the ombudsman for her work on that. The report is detailed and comprehensive, and considers matters that range back over the past 20 years. It has some 2,000 pages,
which the Government will consider. I note the right hon. Ladys request that, when the Chancellor gives his response to that important report, not only about the past but for the future, he come to the House to make an oral statement.
The right hon. Lady asked whether the Prime Minister will make an oral statement on Iraq before the House rises. If there is to be an oral statement on Monday or Tuesday next week, it will be announced in the usual way.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): May we have a debate on inaccurate reporting by the British press? The Leader of the House may know that I had a ten-minute Bill on Tuesday on the inadequate powers of the Press Complaints Commission. During my contribution, I highlighted the case of Robert Murat, who was found guilty and convicted by the British press in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. How many more Robert Murats will it take before action is taken to impress on the press its responsibility to society to report what is going on accurately?
Ms Harman: I commend my hon. Friend for the points that he raised in his ten-minute Bill. We all believe that the press should report accurately and that, if they make a mistake, they should retract and apologise promptly. The Press Complaints Commission should act vigorously, and the Government will keep those issues under review.
Sir Robert Smith: I join the rest of the House in conveying best wishes to everyone for the summer recess. Although Members of Parliament may not be here, many staff will be working extra hard to ensure that the House remains in good order for when we return in October. I wish all the staff the best in their endeavours.
On Equitable Life, does the Leader of the House think that it would have been more appropriate for the Chancellor to make an oral statement today? The Government had the draft report for 17 months and every hon. Member will have constituents who have been affected. Should not the Chancellor have come here today to give at least an initial apology, even if he has to take time to consider exactly how he will respond to the need for compensation? I agree that there should definitely be an oral statement in October, when hon. Members can question the Chancellor about his reaction to the ombudsman.
On coastguard pay, which my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) raised with the Prime Minister yesterday, will the Leader of the House make sure that the Prime Minister comes to the House to clarify that the coastguard pay dispute is not part of the recent public sector pay round, but a long, ongoing dispute, which has been so badly handled that coastguards are having to have compulsory pay rises to make sure that they do not fall foul of minimum wage provisions? It is a totally different issue from the ongoing public sector pay dispute.
On Members pay, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow), in question reference number 217714, asked the Leader of the House how the calculation for Members pay would work and whether she could give him examples of the results that the formula would have produced over the past 10 years. Her deputy replied:
The information requested is not easily obtainable within the normal time scale for answering written parliamentary questions. I will write to the hon. Member shortly[ Official Report, 15 July 2008; Vol. 479, c. 229W.]
Surely, the fact that the House has a pay system that is so complicated that even the right hon. and learned Ladys own Department cannot answer questions on it within the time scale available suggests that we have come up with a rather inappropriate system, and the House will have to revisit that.
The House will rise until October. Come October, it will be almost too late for the Government to come up with a serious strategy for tackling the rising cost of fuel as it affects our constituents going into the winterparticularly those who are not on the gas main, because the price of oil has gone through the roof. We need concrete proposals from the Government now, because the time taken to implement them will be an important factor. Will the Leader of the House make sure before the House rises that the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform makes proposals to tackle fuel poverty among those who are not on the gas main?
Finally, will the Leader of the House ensure before the House rises that the Department for Work and Pensions makes a statement saying what is happening to the card account and the payment of pensions and benefits. The Post Office is a unique institutionit is the only one with outlets throughout the rural areas of this countrybut the Government have imposed access criteria on it. If the Department for Work and Pensions, for administrative convenience, awards the card account contract to anyone but the Post Office, people throughout rural Britain will find it difficult to collect their pensions in the way that the Government have promised they will be able to. Will the Leader of the House therefore ensure that a statement is made on the issue before the House rises so that Members can question and respond to it? Will she ensure that the statement is not left until the recess? If the Government do wait until the recess, will that not send a warning to our many constituents that the Government are planning yet again to ditch the Post Office and take more business away from it.
Ms Harman: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his appearance on the Front Bench at business questions, which is clearly very popular. He raised the issue of pay in the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which has been raised on many occasions in the House. Great value is placed on the work of those in the agency, and there is concern that there should be a settlement that is acceptable to all as soon as possible.
On Equitable Life, we have all been concerned about the many individuals who have been affected one way or another by the problems there. That has had a very big impact. We are obviously pleased that the report has been completed, but the time for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make a statement about which of the proposals arising from the review he will take forward is when the report has been published and everybody has had the opportunity to reflect on it.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the question raised by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam, who wrote to ask what Members pay increases would have been in the past if the formula had been the same as the one that we have agreed for the future. There is no complexity about the formula, which takes the median increase for a basket of 15 different occupations; it is about tracking back to see what the pay increases for those different occupations have been over previous years so that we can do what is in fact a very simple calculation. However, I will deal with that as soon as possible.
On fuel poverty, the fact that the House is rising does not mean that the Government will not remain completely focused on and concerned about how we can do more to ensure that people have their homes insulated and that businesses are energy efficient, how we can increase the supply of energy through renewables and how we can deal with all the problems relating to energy. The fact that the House is rising will not mean that the issue will not be a major Government concern.
The hon. Gentleman raised another issue that is a concern in the House and more widelythe Post Office card account. Hon. Members will know that it is subject to public procurement rules, but the Post Office has put in a bid. However, no hon. Members will be in any doubt about how important the issue is to the post office network.
Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider having a debate on sentencing policy for those found guilty of human trafficking and modern forms of slavery? I ask that not in the light of highly paid footballers, but because of a recent case where an accountant trafficked a 14-year-old Ghanaian girl into the UK and kept her as an unpaid servantor possibly slavefor a number of years, but was sentenced to only 18 months in prison. Should the courts not be giving exemplary sentences, to ensure that we send out the signal that those who traffic human beings will face the wrath of the courts and the retribution of the British legal system?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend raises an important issue. It is important that those who have committed human trafficking offences are brought to justice, not only for the sake of their victims, but as a deterrent to others. It is important, too, that the courts pass sentences that make it clear to people all around the world that this country will not be a safe haven for human traffickers. My hon. Friend made a point about sentencing. I understand that the Sentencing Advisory Panel considered the issue of human trafficking a couple of years ago, along with sexual offences more broadly. However, if I am not right on that, I will ask the Home Secretary whether it would be appropriate to refer the issue to the Sentencing Advisory Panel, bearing in mind the fact that she is looking into the question of human trafficking.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con):
The Leader of the House will know that the instrument of ratification for the Lisbon treaty was deposited by written statement only about an hour ago. Does she accept that that is, effectively, bullying the Irish, who voted no unequivocally, that it is unprecedented, in the sense that when the French and the Dutch voted no, the Government did not proceed with ratification, and furthermore that
there are a number of legal actions outstanding, including my own against the Foreign Secretary in the High Court, on the question of ratification. This is a gross impertinence and a disgraceful
Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider having a debate on Northern Rock, particularly in the light of the revelation in the Daily Mirror this week that the current management are spending £130,000 pursuing the whistleblower who exposed the outrageous bonuses that the previous management were paying themselves? Is it right that what is now our money should be used in that way?
Ms Harman: I shall refer the matter that my hon. Friend raises to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Everyone is agreed that those in the private sector should receive big rewards only where something has been successfulthere should not be rewards for failure. People should bear in mind the law that the House passed setting out that remuneration must be decided while also reflecting on the average levels of remuneration in the company as a whole.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): May we have a debate on the Governments pharmacy White Paper? There is an awful lot of good in the White Paper, which I would support, but there is also a proposal that would devastate rural GP practices that dispense, such as Langport in my constituency. If I had had any doubts about the value that local people put on that GP dispensary, they would have been corrected by the volume of letters that I have received. May we have a debate about the implications of the White Paper on rural GP dispensing? Is the proposal perhaps not another example of the Government simply not understanding the needs of rural areas?
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman will know that the issue is subject to consultation, which will precede the health Bill, which is in the Governments draft legislative programme. However, he makes an important point about how we ensure that we understand the implications of all Government policy and Bills for rural areas, as well as for urban areas. Therefore, I will raise the point that he makes not only with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, but with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who has already answered questions in the House this morning.
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