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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I did ask for brief questions and the hon. Gentleman has done pretty well. I heard three, if not four, points there.

Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for his question and I know that he is assiduous in his attention to his constituents—those whose jobs are affected by the crisis, depositors who are concerned about whether their deposits will be assured, and shareholders. I know that he will continue to play an important part in future debates and we will ensure that those debates are available to the House.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Last year, the pre-Budget report was published on 9 October—today’s date. It is disappointing that the Leader of the House was unable to give any indication of when it might be published this year. Last year, inexcusably, the Government gave the House no time whatsoever to debate the pre-Budget report. In view of its importance this year, will the Leader of the House guarantee time to debate it?

Ms Harman: Consideration has been given to how we allocate days for debate following the Queen’s Speech and the Budget and, as the right hon. Gentleman said, to the opportunities for a full-day debate following the pre-Budget report. He will find that there will be ample time to debate all the issues and I shall make the announcement about the date of the pre-Budget report in the normal way.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): Given all that went on during the summer recess—the war between Russia and Georgia and the crisis in the global financial markets—will my right hon. and learned Friend consider bringing Parliament back for two weeks in September on a permanent basis, as we once agreed to do? We quietly reneged on that agreement when the public attention was off us. Would that not enhance the esteem in which we are held, as well as the democratic process?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend is consistent—I will say that—in raising that point. The Chancellor has made a statement on the financial markets since the House returned. My hon. Friend will know that next Monday, as I just have announced, there will be an opportunity, led by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, to debate democracy and human rights. It will be an opportunity for Members to debate the things that have happened in Georgia over the summer.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Does the right hon. and learned Lady agree that one of the historic and most important functions of this House is to control supply? That being so, will she ensure that yesterday’s proposals are enshrined either in primary legislation or, alternatively, in amendable resolutions of this House, so that we can change them if we do not agree or reject them if we think that they are entirely wrong?

Ms Harman: When the Government seek to take action that requires primary legislation, we will come before the House. If secondary legislation is required, there are procedures for that. If action does not require
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either secondary or primary legislation, the information will be given to the House by way of written or oral statements or will be supplied in debates. There will be an opportunity for the House to hold Ministers to account for all the actions that they take.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): In the summer recess, two schoolchildren in Aberdeenshire were killed when they got off their school bus. The Yellow School Bus Commission, which was chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), also published its report. The commission took evidence in Aberdeen from Robert Gordon’s school, which uses yellow buses. I understand that the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) hopes to table a Bill later in the Session that will address some of the issues to do with school bus safety and the safety of our children travelling to and from school. Will my right hon. and learned Friend guarantee that she will give that Bill clear passage?

Ms Harman: I express my condolences to the families mentioned by my hon. Friend. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) on his work on the Yellow School Bus Commission. These are important issues that affect congestion as well as safety, pollution and the affordability of school travel, and I will ensure that we take into account the points that my hon. Friend raises.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Is the Leader of the House aware that during this time of acute crisis in the banking sector, more of our constituents are moving deposits into the Post Office and into National Savings accounts? Surely, now is not the time for the Department for Work and Pensions even to consider getting rid of the Post Office card account. Will the right hon. and learned Lady guarantee today that in these tumultuous times the Post Office card account will be kept in place?

Ms Harman: As I have told the House on previous occasions, there is a procurement process and the contract, pursuant to the normal rules, is under consideration. No decision has been announced as yet.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House consider making room for a debate on an issue of great importance to rail travellers in Milton Keynes? London Midland appears to have taken the opportunity of “fare simplification” to increase off-peak fares by about 10 per cent. At a time when we should be encouraging people to use rail rather than the roads, that seems highly unfortunate and worthy of a debate in this House.

Ms Harman: I shall take that as a useful suggestion for a topical debate. Perhaps we could discuss investment in rail as well as fare prices for passengers and freight.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): With the best will in the world, surely the Leader of the House must realise that the public will think that it is totally inadequate that on most days next week we will not be discussing the economic crisis. With the problems of pensions and annuities already mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), will the Leader
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of the House at least assure us that she will keep matters under review and will return early next week to change the business so that we look relevant to the public? Otherwise, it will do huge damage to this House.

Ms Harman: We will debate matters touching on the economy on Tuesday and Wednesday next week, but the right hon. Gentleman does not need to wait that long. He need wait only until the end of this business, when he can raise issues in the topical debate. I assure the House that as well as ensuring that the Government’s general business gets through we will bend over backwards to ensure that the House has the opportunity to debate the very important economic issues.

Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole) (Lab): Earlier this week, an independent report commissioned by local councillors in my area showed that the economic impact of tolls on the Humber bridge was costing the region more than £1 billion in economic activity. Given the difficulties that we are facing in our local economies, could the subject of next week’s topical debate be Government initiatives that could help economic growth in areas across the whole country? Will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that Humber bridge tolls are part of such a debate?

Ms Harman: I will consider my hon. Friend’s request for a topical debate. I will also bring his point to the attention of the new Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): My local authority, on a cross-party basis, is very concerned about the fate of the £5.5 million that it had deposited with a subsidiary of Landsbanki and wants to know when it will hear in the House a debate that will ensure that we can get the reassurances from Treasury Ministers that have been offered to retail depositors. There is a concern on behalf of council tax payers that the money invested in line with guidelines set by the Treasury will be lost and that as a consequence council tax will rise.

Ms Harman: As I said to other hon. Members, there will be an opportunity to raise such questions with the Financial Secretary at the end of business questions.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Can we find time next week for a debate on parliamentary protocol, in particular on the importance of respecting confidentiality when a bipartisan approach to a national crisis leads to off-the-record briefings by senior Opposition politicians? It was a little unseemly to see the shadow Chancellor haring round TV studios last weekend, sharing with the nation the thoughts of the Governor of the Bank of England, his new best friend.

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. He reinforces the point that I made at the outset about the importance of the Government’s acting decisively but, wherever possible, on a bipartisan basis. The markets are sensitive to debate and discussion and things that are said can affect people’s living standards by affecting share prices and confidence, so it is very important that when any confidential discussions are entered into, that confidentiality is respected.


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Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Was the Leader of the House surprised that Parliament was not recalled from recess, when we face the worst economic crisis for 100 years and are going from boom to bust? Is it not a good idea to amend Standing Order No. 13 to ensure that it is up to the Speaker whether the House is recalled in future?

Ms Harman: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Prime Minister raised the question of the call and recall of Parliament in “The Governance of Britain”, which the Modernisation Committee is due to consider shortly.

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): In June, Michelle and six-year-old Jayden had their gas cut off by Scottish Power, leaving them without cooking, heating and lighting for more than four months. Scottish Power is owned by a company that made a profit of €200 million last year, and it wants my constituent to pay £350 for extra pipe work to install a rip-off pre-charge meter. Can we have a debate in the near future to examine the social responsibility of utilities such as Scottish Power to help people such as Michelle across the country?

Ms Harman: That is an important and timely suggestion for a topical debate, and no doubt it will attract the support of many hon. Members. As the Prime Minister said yesterday at Prime Minister’s questions, we must ensure that the energy companies operate fairly in respect of hard-pressed consumers at this difficult time.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Will the Leader of the House promise not to waste the time of the House by providing an opportunity to debate the ridiculous, absurd and unsustainable proposition that we should have regional Select Committees?

Ms Harman: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. When one thinks of the effect of the current economic climate on businesses big and small, one sees that the work of regional development agencies and of strategic regional authorities is even more important. The fact that such bodies are not properly accountable to Members of this House needs to be acted on. When the Modernisation Committee conducted an inquiry on regional Committees, there was not agreement in Committee on how they should be established, but there was full agreement that there is a need for this House better to hold to account such agencies, which are very important at the regional level. We will proceed in due course, and the hon. Gentleman will have a chance to join the debate and vote on the matter.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): The Child Support Agency has required one of my constituents to pay several thousand pounds of arrears in 12 months. My constituent does not dispute the arrears, which he wants to pay, and he is currently looking after the children for whom the arrears were incurred. Can we debate the way in which the CSA deals with arrears at this time of economic slowdown? My concern is that those who want to face up to their responsibilities will be penalised by an excessively stringent approach to arrears as the economy slows further, while those who want to avoid their arrears will continue to do so.


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Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point. First and foremost, we should examine the issue from the viewpoint of the children. It is right to expect fathers who can do so to pay a fair proportion of their income to their own children. It is therefore best if people do not get into arrears in the first place. Perhaps I can ask him to seek a meeting with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in respect of his individual constituent.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): The remaining stages of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill are due to be taken on 22 October. Will the Leader of the House accept that that Bill is a highly inappropriate vehicle to impose a fundamental change in relation to the law on abortion in Northern Ireland? Given that the communities and all parties in Northern Ireland are united on the issue, if devolution is to mean anything, the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland should be respected in that regard.

Ms Harman: Obviously it is very important that the question of the view of the parties in Northern Ireland is taken into account, irrespective of the issue that is being raised. It is also important that the views of men and women are taken into account in all parts of the United Kingdom when services are being considered. As the hon. Gentleman said, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill will come before the House next week, and no doubt he will be able to make his points in the debate.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): Can we have a debate on the long-term future of regional airports? My right hon. and learned Friend may be aware of the recent decision by British Airways to relocate its cabin crew staff from Glasgow airport and other regional airports throughout the UK, which has resulted in significant job losses. Does she agree that British Airways is hardly an appropriate brand name, when it sees regional airports as trading posts? It is happy to take the natives’ money, but it will not trust the natives on its aircraft.

Ms Harman: I will raise that important point, which is also the subject of my hon. Friend’s early-day motion 2208 on British Airways job losses at Glasgow airport.

[That this House expresses its concern at the continuing loss of jobs by British Airways staff at Glasgow Airport and other regional airports across the UK; notes that these job losses demonstrate a clear lack of commitment by BA to serving regional airports outside London, is not in the best interests of the travelling public, undermines the long-term security of the workforce and treats regional airports such as Glasgow as trading posts; and believes that British Airways should reconsider this decision or go the whole way and rebrand themselves London Airways.]

I will raise those important points with the Secretary of State for Transport, the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): The people of Hertfordshire will be surprised by the Leader of the House’s decision not to call for a statement on local government finance problems due to banks crashing in
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Iceland. In Hertfordshire, £17 million is invested in those banks. That investment was made in good faith and at the Government’s request, because the assets were being held. That will cause a shortfall in cash flow as well as a shortfall in next year’s funding, because the interest was required to go forward. Can we have an immediate statement on how local government will survive in that situation?

Ms Harman: I have put next week’s business before the House. We arranged for this week a debate on financial stability, which will take place shortly. As well as having the opportunity to speak in that debate, Members will be able to ask the Minister questions during his speech.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): There is a requirement for utility companies to provide their customers with at least one bill every two years. Here in London my electricity provider does that, but Powergen, my electricity supplier in Bolton, rarely provides me with a bill. As a result, Powergen got me in debt to the tune of £1,000 last year. It read my meter two months ago, but no bill has followed, and several of my constituents are in debt as a result of such terrible behaviour by several power companies. I echo the request for a topical debate on the behaviour of the providers of power to our homes, which could extend to the provision of social tariffs, smart meters and feed-in tariffs.

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Without pre-empting myself or anybody else with whom I might discuss the issue, I think that the question of how energy companies are operating in this difficult situation is a front-runner for next week’s topical debate.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Notwithstanding what the Leader of the House has already said, may I appeal to her spirit of generosity and urge her to announce in a statement next week that there will in fact be two days, not one day, for the remaining stages of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, both because that is right in itself in view of the array of opinions on the subject and, indeed, because it would represent a display of strength and receptiveness on the part of the Government?

Ms Harman: I was just looking for information about the amount of debate that there has already been. In considering whether there will be enough debate, the House should recognise how much debate has already taken place on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. In total, the Bill has been debated on the Floor of both Houses for 81 hours, with 10 sessions in the Lords and, so far, seven in the Commons. We have already had two days on the Floor of the House discussing amendments and new clauses on the basis of free votes on conscience issues. I stand second to no one in believing that the House should debate these heartfelt issues properly, but taking a view across all the business coming through this House, I think that 81 hours probably amounts to adequate debate.


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