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Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab):
The House will be aware that Holocaust memorial day takes place on 27 January next year. The theme for that day is stand up to hatred. It is very timely, given the European and local elections held later in the year. This year, my
right hon. and learned Friend allowed the House a debate on Holocaust memorial day that was supported by all parties. It was an excellent debate, and it gave us time to give credit to the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, among other organisations. Will she consider a similar debate to mark 27 January next year?
Ms Harman: We had an important and valuable debate on Holocaust memorial day this year, and I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. We will look for another opportunity to debate it next year; we must never forget these important issues.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): May we have an early debate on the written statement made last week by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury on the closure of Her Majestys Revenue and Customs offices? As I explained to the House in a point of order yesterday, his statement indicated that the Lerwick office in my constituency would be retained, and that it was not part of the review. At the time when that statement was made, HMRC management were arranging to remove the last of its staff, so we might have an office that is open with nobody working in it. I do not question for a second the good faith of the Financial Secretary, who is a man of integrity who is respected on both sides of the House, but it is clear to me that elements in HMRC management do not feel accountable to anyone. We need to make them accountable, and an early debate in this place would be an important start to that process.
Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): Can we have a debate in Government time to look at the behaviour of the management of the Sunday Herald, The Herald and the Evening Times? Those are quality campaigning newspapers in Scotland, and this time last week, 240 journalists were brought into a room and summarily dismissed. Bizarrely, they were given 90 days notice, and then even more bizarrely, they were told to reapply for far fewer jobs. That is totally unacceptable behaviour and shows the need to look at trade union legislation again.
Ms Harman: I am sure that the journalists and staff at those newspapers will have the solid support of my hon. Friend and their trade union. Their management will no doubt have heard the points that he has raised and reflect on the fact that there is support on this side of the House for those points.
Now is the winter of our discontent
because the Prime Minister reneged on a solemn commitment to the House, which was given in the debate on the Queens Speech last week, that we would have an Equitable Life statement before Christmas. What are we to say to those of our constituents who are affected, most of whom are elderly and many of whom live on modest means? Indeed, some have already died. When will the Government make a statement to ensure that those people are able to live better in the future, because they have been seriously disadvantaged through no fault of their own?
Ms Harman: No one thinks that this is not a serious issue, and it is because it is a serious and important matter that we wanted to ensure that the Treasury has the time necessary to consider it. On the question of what the hon. Lady should tell her constituents, she should say that the statement will be in January.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Many of us have constituents who work for Woolworths. Will the Department for Work and Pensions issue a statement in the near future that gives advice about where those people can go for assistance if they need it, particularly in relation to some of the measures that the Government have recently introduced to help people through these difficult times during the economic downturn? May we have a statement to provide at least some respite to those who have had the worst possible news this side of Christmas?
Ms Harman: I share my hon. Friends concern for those employed by Woolworths, many of whom have worked there for many years. This has been devastating news for them, and I reassure them that the Government will do everything we possibly can to help them with a difficult situation before Christmas. Jobcentre Plus will be on hand to ensure that they are pointed in the right direction for any training that they might need and towards any vacancies that are available. We will certainly not simply stand by and say that unemployment is a price worth paying and that they can get on their bike. We will give those affected every help possible.
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): What kind of Government will not even come to the House and make an oral statement about serious defence procurement delays? Journalists outside the House were being invited to a briefing at the Ministry of Defence, while the written statement was not even available to Members. That is totally unacceptable. When can we have a debate in Government time about the complete hash that they are making of defence procurement funding arrangements?
Ms Harman: That is not the situation at all; we are pressing forward with important defence procurement. Regarding the enthusiasm for that subject shown by Opposition Members, I say to them that receipts coming into the Treasury are decreasing because of stamp duty and the retail sector is declining, so VAT receipts are decreasing. If defence spending is to be maintained at such a timewe have committed to maintain itborrowing has to increase. I hope that all of those who want defence procurement to continue will support our decision to allow borrowing to rise.
Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend either initiate a debate in the House or consult the appropriate House authorities about an important matter? A few weeks ago, Scope had an event in the Terrace Pavilion. Most of the representatives were wheelchair bound and had to go through a designated smoking area to gain access to that part of the Palace. That is disgraceful and totally unacceptable. Will my right hon. and learned Friend have another look at that so that we show the rest of the country that we practise what we preach?
I agree with my hon. Friend that it is a serious issue when people who need wheelchair access have to go through a fog of tobacco smoke. Perhaps the
shadow Leader of the House, other members of the House of Commons Commission and I can consider that matter.
Ms Harman: The plans for the publication of Members expenses are: to ensure that we comply with the laws passed by the House and that the public have the information that they need to reassure them that public money is being spent properly by Members as we do our work; to ensure that there is a redrafted green book; and to ensure that there is better audit and assurance to reassure the public. However, the amount spent on gathering information for the public must be proportionate, and there has to be a sense of balance. The public have the right to know and we must ensure that they have the information they need, but that has to be done at a reasonable and proportionate cost.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): Has my right hon. and learned Friend seen the recent report Carers in Crisis, which shows, notwithstanding the improvements the Government have made, that carers continue to struggle and their true worth continues to be undervalued and under-rewarded? May we have a debate soon on the huge contribution that carers make to our country, as that would provide an opportunity for Ministers to spell out what more they intend to do to ensure that carers are supported properly?
Ms Harman: I will look at finding time for a debate specifically on carers. The increase in the number of people with disabilities and in the number of people aged over 85 means that the issue will only get bigger. Most people want to ensure that their families can provide care, and that is what most families want. We have already taken action on the right to request flexible working for carers, and important servicesthe local authority health service, voluntary and respite servicessupport family carers. Providing cash to those who are unable to work as often as they would have been because they are caring is also important. I will consider the points my hon. Friend has raised and see whether we can find an opportunity to debate the matter.
Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport early next week on what has gone wrong with the latest Stonehenge project? It is not just a local or regional issue; it is a matter of national and international concern, because the visitor facilities are a national disgrace. Will the right hon. and learned Lady confirm that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Transport and the Treasury are in agreement about the matter, and that the problem lies with one or more of the stakeholder partners in the project who cannot agree a compromise? Alternatively, as the chairman of the National Trust wrote in an article entitled The neglect of our heritage is shameful in The Guardian on 12 September, is it the case that
In Britain, nobody gives a damn?
It is certainly true that there has been a big focus on Stonehenge, and I know that the hon. Gentleman, as the local Member, has been anxious to
be at the forefront of that. He will know that the stakeholders group met yesterday. This is a question not of whether Stonehenge will, as a site, be improved, protected and made more accessible, but of where the visitors centre will be, and of knocking heads together to ensure proper agreement. It is not that the Government have been holding back, but that we need to work with all the stakeholders to agree where the visitors centre should be.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): May we have a debate on the role and powers of local authority trading standards services, because as trading conditions get more difficult, the likelihood is that there will be more disputes between consumers and retailers? I shall tell the Leader of the House about the long struggle that my constituent, Mr. James McMahon, has had with the major national company, Everest Windows, to get recompense for a faulty product. It took Mr. McMahon two years to fight his case through the county court. He was eventually vindicated and received compensation, but if trading standards services had had the power to intervene more forcefully in civil cases, all of that time, expense and anxiety could have been avoided to the benefit of the consumer and the retailer.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May we have a debate next week on a motion to refer the matter of the search of the offices of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) to the Committee on Standards and Privileges? The Leader of the House knows that the vote on Monday was profoundly unsatisfactory and that the result was distorted by the activities of the Labour Whips. It denied Mr. Speaker the purpose of his statement and kicked the matter into the long grass, where I know that the Leader of the House wants it to be. That is a disgrace and ought to be debated by the House on a motion to refer the matter to the remit of the Committee on Standards and Privileges.
Ms Harman: If a Member wants something to be referred to the Standards and Privileges Committee, and if a motion is introduced to that effect, the Government make time available as soon as possible thereafter so that the House can express a view on whether it wants something to be referred to that Committee.
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend urgently consider the inclusion of small-scale wind devices and air source heat pump devices in the terms of the general permitted development orders? She may be aware that the orders in respect of other microgeneration were laid last spring, that the devices I mention were excluded and that considerable distress is being caused to manufacturers by the fact that the orders have not yet been laid.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD):
I wonder whether the Leader of the House could find time for the Secretary of State for Transport to come to the House next week to explain the Highways Agencys
extraordinary decision to close the A303 entirely for three months early next year. Aside from the west country, I can think of no region of the country where the main arterial route could be closed for a quarter of the year for the convenience of contractors, rather than being operated in the economic, environmental and social interests of the people whom I represent.
Ms Harman: This is just the sort of issue that the hon. Gentlemans regional Committee will want to address. As we will have that new accountability mechanism, he will not need to raise such an issue in business questions; he and his fellow Members who represent the region will be able to get to grips with it with the Highways Agency directly.
Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the strong support across the House for the campaign run by the Federation of Small Businesses to Keep Trade Local. Is she aware of my early-day motion 107, which calls on hon. Members to move on from that and to support the campaign by procuring their Christmas dinner from local shops and retailers in their constituency?
[That this House congratulates the Federation of Small Businesses on their Keep Trade Local campaign; notes that local high streets are increasingly under threat with 2,000 local shops closing each year; believes small businesses form an essential part of local communities and economies; and calls on hon. Members to source their Christmas dinners from small independent retailers in their constituencies in order to support local businesses at this time of economic difficulty.]
Only 29 Members have signed it so far, but, ever optimistic about the great generosity of all hon. Members, will she encourage Members to sign it and to procure their Christmas dinner from local suppliers, thus making it a merry Christmas not just in their households, but in those of our small retailers?
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): I am always anxious to give the Leader of the House the benefit of the doubt, so I accept that she was acting in good faith when she told the House in July, when the ombudsmans report was published, that there would be a statement on Equitable Life in the autumn. I am less able to give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt about what he told the House during the debate on the Address:
There will be a statement before the House rises at Christmas. I can say to the hon. Gentleman that that will be done. There will be a statement.[ Official Report, 3 December 2008; Vol. 485, c. 38.]
What was said then was that there was an expectation [Interruption.] Well, it stands to reason, does it not, that if the statement had been ready, it would have been made, so what was being talked about was a statement that was under preparation? The
preparation has taken a bit longer than anticipated, but I think that Members are going way beyond things if they are asserting that there has somehow been some calculation about the timing and that Ministers are not acting in good faith. All we have been trying to do is give a reasonable estimate of when the statement might be ready, and the latest estimate is that we hope it will be ready in the week of the 15th.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) has just asked that the privilege issues relating to the search of the House be referred to the Standards and Privileges Committee. If he moves the motion that the Leader of the House advises, will she ensure that there is an opportunity to amend the motion to ensure that the standards issue inherent in the apparent suborning of a public servant to breach the civil service code is also considered by that Committee?
Ms Harman: The Public Administration Committee and the Select Committee on Home Affairs are both looking into aspects of this. I understand that if there was a reference to standards and privileges, the Speaker would decide whether there should be a reference and a debate would then be held on a motion to the House.
Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): On behalf of all colleagues whose constituencies have interests relating to dockyards or shipyards, or substantial defence interests, may I impress upon the Leader of the House that todays written statement by the Secretary of State for Defence announcing a two-year delay in the procuring of both the aircraft carriers, on which thousands of jobs depend, which appears to fly in the face of Government policy to bring forward major spending projects, is completely unacceptable? Has she any idea of the dismay that this is causing thousands of constituents up and down the country? Will she, even at this late stage, bring the Defence Secretary to the Chamber so that we can quiz him about the implications for the jobs of our constituents?
Ms Harman: We are very concerned not only that the right defence equipment should be procured, but that the jobs and skills dependent on it should be secure. The hon. Gentleman may rest assured that with this Governments support for capital expenditure and for public expenditure, we will sustain the capital investment that we have announced. Obviously, that involves a question of phasing, which will depend on the circumstances and on priorities. Unlike the Conservative partys policy, our policy is to make sure that we sustain public investment.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Government consider including in the Bill on political party funding that they announced they would introduce this Session measures to make political parties that receive donations that result from the proceeds of crime return the cash to the people from whom it was stolen? Will the Leader of the House examine the issue?
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