Previous Section Index Home Page

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): As the Deputy Leader of the House will be aware, it is now established that the people of the British overseas territories have
23 Oct 2008 : Column 459
the right to self-determination, as is the case for Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands. Will he ask the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on the House on the Lords’ decision regarding the British Indian Ocean Territory and the appalling fate of the people of the Chagos islands, who were forcibly removed from their homes in the 1960s by a Labour Government, and who are now, against their wishes, living in a foreign land? Will the Deputy Leader of the House make a statement to the House and arrange for a debate to take place, so that justice can be done to those British people who have been so appallingly treated?

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman will know that the House of Lords has already found in the Government’s favour on this issue, but that is not to say that we do not want to do everything we can to support those people. I know the hon. Gentleman has led—admirably, although I often disagree with him—many debates on overseas territories in Westminster Hall, and I would have thought this was a suitable subject for debate there.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Will the Deputy Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate on why it is taking so long to renew the Post Office card account? People are very worried about this issue. The Deputy Leader of the House is a great supporter of the European Union, and he well knows that if this were happening in France, Germany or any other European country, the decision would have been made ages ago, despite all the rigmarole. It is time that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions came here to explain again why this is taking so long.

Chris Bryant: The Secretary of State was here earlier this week and answered many questions. [Interruption.] Well, I read what he said, and he said that he hated to sound like a broken record, but the truth is that a commercial tender is currently going on, and it would be wrong of me or him to affect that process. I do, however, know from my own constituency that post offices are essential to many communities, and I am sure that that will be borne in mind in this process.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman convey to the Leader of the House that the Prime Minister is negligent in his duties to this House in respect of not coming here on a regular basis to make a statement about the war in Afghanistan? British troops are engaged every day in situations of great danger. There is a constantly shifting strategic scene. General Petraeus has recently been here to discuss these matters with the Prime Minister, and NATO members are at odds with each other. This is a very dangerous situation and the Prime Minister should come before this House regularly—as all former Prime Ministers have done when Britain has been at war—to account for the actions of the Government in the administration of the war.

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman, who is a former Defence Minister, speaks wisely in that it is important that the House receives regular updates on what is happening, because we all know from our constituencies that people are in some cases laying down their lives on
23 Oct 2008 : Column 460
an entirely honourable basis in Afghanistan, to protect the people of Afghanistan, to bring peace there and to protect security in the world. There will be a debate on defence next Thursday afternoon, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to take part in it. I should just say, however, that this Prime Minister has appeared very regularly in the House and made statements on a wide range of issues, and I know that he takes very seriously his responsibility of making sure that the House is updated on these important issues.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): The House takes identity fraud and its prevention very seriously, and we have passed legislation on it, but may we have a debate to look at whether some of the relevant agencies are properly implementing the measures we have provided, because if the experience of a constituent of mine is anything to go by, it would appear that it is possible to go to post office depots and ask for post to be delayed without the proper identification requirements? That gives fraudsters a window of two or three weeks in which they can use an identity before its use is even discovered by the people affected.

Chris Bryant: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that. It is clearly a significant issue, and I have never spotted it before. I will raise it with the Department for Work and Pensions, and I will take it as a suggestion for a topical debate. Ensuring that people’s identities are not stolen is an issue we have to deal with now, and it is one that we would never have thought of 20 years ago.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I think the House will agree that it is as important that we show as great an interest in small businesses as in the situation of the people in the City. Notwithstanding yesterday’s statement on this matter, may we therefore have a debate in Government time on small businesses, in order to answer some of the questions about which Ministers only waffle, such as how we can provide proper access to the small firms loan guarantee scheme, how we can avoid the arbitrary call-in of overdraft facilities by banks and how we can create flexibility on the part of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and discuss the malign effects of the empty property tax?

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman raises important issues, which, as he admits, have already been raised this week. The Government are very keen to make sure that the House is updated in what is a fast-moving environment in terms of the general economy. The most important thing we have done for small and medium-sized enterprises is recapitalise the banks, and I think the eyes of all Members of the House, and all taxpayers in the country, will be on the banks, making sure that they are not paying themselves bonuses and then failing to make loans available to small enterprises. If the money is not circulating to the SMEs, the heart may be beating but the blood will not be circulating around our economy.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): Will the Government prepare the ground for the next time that the House considers our 40-year-old abortion law, by commissioning an independent study into the operation of the law to date?

Chris Bryant: Obviously, that is a matter for the Secretary of State for Health, and I will pass on that suggestion to him. However, it also falls within the
23 Oct 2008 : Column 461
remit of the Health Committee, and if it were to choose to conduct a further report on the issue of abortion—how it operates, and how people have access to termination services—that would be within its power.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): May we please have a debate in Government time next week, on the Floor of the House, on the proposed changes to the special educational needs and disability tribunal procedure, regulations concerning which were laid before the House by the Ministry of Justice on 15 October? On 16 October, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition tabled early-day motion 2273.

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Tribunal Procedure (First-tier Tribunal) (Health, Education and Social Care Chamber) Rules 2008 (S.I., 2008, No. 2699), dated 9th October 2008, a copy of which was laid before this House on 15th October, be annulled.]

The motion requested that those regulations be annulled because of genuine and widespread concerns that they advantage local authorities against the interest of parents. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that the issue be fully aired sooner rather than later?

Chris Bryant: As sympathetic as I am to the comments of the hon. Gentleman, whom I think of as an hon. Friend— [Interruption.] Well, I think that the Leader of the House referred to him as an honorary member of the sisterhood. In all honesty I cannot offer him the assurance that he seeks about next week, because I have already declared the business of the House for that week.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): I welcome the Deputy Leader of the House to his stand-in role, in which he has done an excellent job. He will be aware of the importance of seaports to the economy of the British isles and of the Valuation Office Agency’s re-rating of ports, which will be backdated to 2005 and will double the rate in many cases. That will have an impact not only on the owners or authorities that run the ports, but on the small businesses located in them. May we have an urgent debate on the matter? Competitiveness and small businesses will suffer as a consequence, and ask that we reconsider the decision.

Chris Bryant: I will raise those issues with the Treasury on my hon. Friend’s behalf. I know that he has raised them elsewhere and been a doughty defender of small businesses in his constituency. The Government can do several things to alleviate the problems of small businesses in ports and elsewhere, notably by paying bills more swiftly, bringing forward capital projects so that small businesses have the opportunity to gain Government funding, and ensuring that there is a significant training package so that businesses are as efficient and effective as they can be in an economic environment that will be difficult for all of us.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Is the Deputy Leader of the House aware that he has a duty to take into account the interests of the House as a whole, not just the interests of his Government? Will he therefore take more seriously and respond to the point made by my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the
23 Oct 2008 : Column 462
House and the Liberal Democrat spokesman that more time should be allowed on the Floor of the House for a Bill on Report? Any programme motion that the Government table should be fully discussed with and agreed by the Opposition parties and should take account of the number of amendments that have been tabled.

Chris Bryant: I would actually prefer there to be fewer Government amendments clogging up the system. The honest truth is that by the time Bills come to this House, they should be in better nick and should not need the large number of the Government amendments that are often necessary. I know that the Leader of the House is working on trying to ensure that that is true of every new Bill that comes before us. The process of pre-legislative scrutiny that we have introduced should make that easier. In fact, the Bills that have had pre-legislative scrutiny have tended to suffer less Government amendment, although obviously they may still be subject to amendments from others.

The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point, and I know that the Procedure Committee has been considering how we can structure debates on Report in a way that makes it possible to deal with more issues. Yes, I would have preferred it yesterday if it had been possible for us to debate more fully all the issues on which amendments were tabled. However, there had also been a request for a statement on small businesses, and it was important that we had that.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): May we have a debate, perhaps in Westminster Hall, about the situation of UK nationals who have lost money in Isle of Man bank accounts? Such people include my constituent Katy Watts, who had just sold her house after spending four years as a youth worker on the Isle of Man and saw its value disappear overnight when Kaupthing Singer and Friedlander was taken into administration. Constituents of Derbyshire Members, where part of the building society was sent off to the Isle of Man, have also lost everything.

Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend raises important issues, and I am sure that she will want to do so again in the House when the relevant Ministers are here. I shall pass her comments on to Treasury Ministers, and I am sure that they will want to get back to her.

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I congratulate the Deputy Leader of the House on the skill with which he is defending the indefensible on issues such as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

On Monday I raised the issue of oil with the Prime Minister, at columns 33 to 34 of Hansard, and he said that we needed a constantly increasing supply. I find that rather strange, because if we are going to do something about climate change we need to reduce the consumption of oil. May we have a debate about the pressures on Ministers? The Prime Minister has clearly lost the plot, and perhaps the Deputy Leader of the House, standing in for his boss, who is standing in for her boss, would do a better job.

Chris Bryant: I confess that I have not the faintest idea what point the hon. Gentleman was trying to make towards the end. Perhaps he can elucidate it to me later.

23 Oct 2008 : Column 463

There is a real difficulty when considering climate change. My constituency is quite isolated from most of the labour market in south Wales, and historically people came to live in the Rhondda because there was coal there. Now there are no coal mines. A car is therefore absolutely essential for people to be able to get to work. We must balance the needs of people who need to drive their cars with the need to cut emissions.

Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): The Eliasch report, published last week, made clear the importance of carbon markets in a post-Kyoto settlement incorporating reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation. Will my hon. Friend consider making time for a debate about the way in which deforestation contributes 19 per cent. of all global emissions each year?

Chris Bryant: I am sure that my hon. Friend will want to raise that issue in the debate on the Climate Change Bill on Tuesday. Labour Members are proud not only that this will be the first Government in the world to ensure that an emissions reduction is written into statute, but that we are increasing the target from 60 per cent. to 80 per cent. Many of us have had constituents write to us about that.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the Deputy Leader of the House, and I am most relieved that his great talents have been kept well away from his preferred area of Europe.

This week has seen the world day for osteoporosis, a disease that is causing increased bone fragility and a greater number of fractures. There are quarter of a million fractures a year in this country—one a day in each of our constituencies. May we have a debate on the condition, not least to discuss the National Osteoporosis Society’s report, “Your bones and osteoporosis: What every man, woman and child should know”? It highlights the importance of diet and activity in heading off the distressing human cost, and indeed the economic cost to the NHS, of something that is largely avoidable.

Chris Bryant: I know that my hon. Friend, whom one day I will manage to persuade on Europe, has pursued this issue for some years. All of us will know from our own constituencies that many people who suffer from osteoporosis would have been able to avoid it if they had been given wiser advice in younger years. I am proud of the investment that we have made in the NHS, which has made it possible for us to open 100 brand-new hospitals. It was shameful for this country that when we came to power in 1997, 50 per cent. of the hospitals had been built before 1948.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): The Deputy Leader of the House has on three occasions very elegantly sidestepped the main issue that arose from the Government’s handling of yesterday’s business, so may I have another shot? Can we have the assurance that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) sought—that in future, when we reach the remaining stages of a Bill, the Government will not, in defiance of the normal conventions of the House, table a timetable motion simply to avoid debate on matters that the Government find inconvenient?

23 Oct 2008 : Column 464

Chris Bryant: I cannot give entirely that assurance. The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) gave the game away a bit when he said that he wanted us to take not the amendments but other things first. When a Bill is being discussed, it is important to deal with the issues on which Members have tabled amendments to clauses that are already in it. However, I know that the Procedure Committee is considering the matter, and if we need to amend the way in which we do our business, I am sure that the Leader of the House will seek to do so.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new role. A series of contracts was awarded in respect of the Scottish renewables obligation in the 1990s. The SRO output is now eligible for renewables obligation certificates, and sales have accrued £120 million, which is sitting in an Ofgem bank account. That money is accessible only by Scotland and can be spent only by the Scottish Government. However, if it were to be accessed and spent, the departmental expenditure limit rules would effectively result in a pound-for-pound clawback from existing spending. Can we have a statement from a Treasury Minister to explain the idiocy of those rules and, more importantly, to tell us when they will be changed?

Chris Bryant: If the facts are precisely as the hon. Gentleman says, the position does appear curious. However, I am cautious, because I have sometimes heard him present facts that I have subsequently investigated and found not to be quite as I would have presented them. We have Treasury questions next week, and I am sure that he will take that opportunity to raise this matter. If he wants to do so, he can, of course, apply for a Westminster Hall debate on it.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): On rail safety, is there not a case for a statement if it is true that the Office of Rail Regulation has concluded that a design flaw in track up and down the country is exposing passengers to a risk of derailment? Is it not amazing that this is all being conducted in secret, not least given the fact that the situation is highly relevant to the Potters Bar crash, which took place six and a half years ago and in respect of which there has still not been a coroner’s inquest or a public inquiry?

Chris Bryant: I am sure that the Secretary of State for Transport will be interested in what the hon. Gentleman has to say; I know that he has raised this issue on several occasions. There is no desire to keep anything secret. If there are facts that can help us to prevent other situations from occurring in future, obviously we have to learn from them. We will also ensure that the House is informed of them, so that everybody can take part in the debate.

Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con): Can we have a debate on the Severn barrage situation? I strongly believe that the Government want the project to happen, as do local people, within reason. It is a massive civil engineering project that will take years to come to fruition. Local people are concerned, because the plans are moving and mixed signals that we are receiving from Departments are not helping local people to engage in the debate. Can we have a debate in the House to decide exactly what will happen in respect of this project, to discuss the effect of the Welsh Assembly on it and, more importantly, to ensure that local people have a say?

Next Section Index Home Page