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May I explain, in case the hon. Gentleman does not know, that funding for the SFO is based on blockbuster cases, which need the replenishment of funds as they are inquired into? The procedure that has taken place just recently is a very normal one.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): I am glad that the Solicitor-General has come to that topic. Last year, the SFO came to Parliament to ask for £17 million extra, and Parliament was told that nearly £7 million of that was purely to cover administrative costs. This year, the SFO is coming to Parliament to ask for £20 million, which is more than half of its base budget, but we are not being told how much of that will be spent on purely administrative costs. In fact, the format of the estimates has been changed so that it is now impossible to tell how much the SFO is spending on administrative costs. Will the Solicitor-General tell the House what the £20 million is being spent on? How much is being spent on administrative costs and how much on cases? Will she also explain why the format of the estimates was changed?

The Solicitor-General: I know of no important change in the format of the estimates. There is no figure of £20 million of which I am aware—I think there has been a little bit of exaggeration. The SFO has an additional £18.81 million, made up of £15.45 million and £3.36 million. That money is largely for the normal accrual of blockbuster cases. In addition, of course, the transformation programme to which I have alluded also requires replenishment. They are perfectly normal bits of funding. A contingency payment has been made and formal parliamentary approval will come in the spring supplementary estimates. If the hon. Gentleman wants any more detail, I invite him to write to me rather than simply getting it wrong and assuming something sinister when there is nothing sinister at all.

Sexual Abuse Victims (Court Proceedings)

4. Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): What plans she has to make it easier for those who have undergone sexual abuse to give evidence in court proceedings. [247658]

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The Solicitor-General: The Coroners and Justice Bill, which was introduced to the House yesterday, will allow into evidence as of right, as it were, records of first interviews with complainants of serious sexual offences. That will avoid their having to go through the whole story again from the start in court. It will also allow in evidence from the first time that they complain of an alleged offence. Historically, complaints have only been allowed in when they have been made quickly after the incident, but now the courts recognise that it often takes time before complainants can bring themselves to complain. We have also increased the number of sexual assault referral centres and the number of independent sexual violence advisers, who, in their different ways, befriend and support rape complainants.

Julie Morgan: I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that response and congratulate the Government on what they are doing in this field. In Cardiff, we have benefited from the recent opening of a sexual abuse referral centre based in the Cardiff royal infirmary and from an independent sexual violence adviser who helps victims in the courts. What more can be done to help those women, whose experiences are so traumatic, so that when they go to court they feel that they will have a fair hearing and will be able to get justice?

The Solicitor-General: An important aspect of sustaining people who complain—the British crime survey shows that about a third of people who are sexually assaulted never tell anyone about it, except presumably the British crime survey interviewers many years later—is sustaining their confidence to go to court. We can do that with sexual assault referral centres such the one my hon. Friend mentioned, Safe Island in Cardiff, with better trained police who interview in a more appropriate way and with better trained prosecutors. One hopes that from making a complaint to getting to court a complainant will be sustained and supported so she will have the confidence to get through. It seems to us that that is probably the most important factor in ensuring that women—and men—who have suffered sexual assault get justice.


5. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): What recent discussions she has had with Ministerial colleagues on the law on bribery. [247659]

The Solicitor-General: The Government are currently actively considering the Law Commission’s report on bribery, published in November 2008. We are committed to reforming that area of the law, and have announced that we will bring forward a draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny this Session.

Mr. Heath: Of course, the UK has been committed, by treaty, to reform in that area for some time, but has not yet made those reforms. The Government were not interested in taking forward proposals for legislation in previous Sessions. Now that we have very clear proposals from the Law Commission, why on earth can we not go ahead with them with the greatest possible urgency?

The Solicitor-General: Because although it is important that we act quickly, it is very important that we get it right. It is a complex issue and it merits pre-legislative
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scrutiny. Usually, the hon. Gentleman would welcome pre-legislative scrutiny as providing appropriate exposure of the law. There will be pre-legislative scrutiny in this case. I add that the OECD has recognised that our current law now meets the requirements of the convention,
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that we are in the top 10 per cent. of countries when it comes to ongoing investigations, that we are in the top third for convictions for bribery, and that we are one of the least corrupt countries in the world according to Transparency International.

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Business of the House

11.35 am

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the forthcoming business?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 19 January—Second Reading of the Policing and Crime Bill.

Tuesday 20 January—Motion to approve European documents entitled “From Financial Crisis to Recovery: a European Framework for Action” and “A European Economic Recovery Plan”, followed by motion to approve a European document relating to financial management, followed by motion to approve a European document relating to EU-Russia relations.

Wednesday 21 January—Opposition Day (1st Allotted Day). There will be a debate entitled “Access to Emergency and Urgent Care in the NHS”, followed by a debate entitled “The Plight of Savers”. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Thursday 22 January—Proceedings on a business of the House motion, followed by a debate on motions relating to freedom of information, followed by motions relating to Members’ allowances.

The provisional business for the week commencing 26 January will include:

Monday 26 January—Second Reading of the Coroners and Justice Bill.

Tuesday 27 January—Second Reading of the Welfare Reform Bill.

Wednesday 28 January—Opposition Day (2nd Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.

Thursday 29 January—Topical debate: subject to be announced, followed by general debate on armed forces personnel.

Mrs. May: First, may I take this opportunity to welcome the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) back to his role? The Leader of the House has received numerous requests for a debate in Government time on Zimbabwe. The situation there continues to worsen, and the fact that it is not on our television screens does not mean that it should be out of our thoughts. Will the Leader of the House commit to a debate to give all Members the opportunity to speak on this devastating and pressing issue?

After months of delay, the Transport Secretary will finally make a statement on Heathrow to the House today. Yesterday, the Prime Minister said:

I understand that the Prime Minister is to meet Labour Back Benchers after the statement has been made, but Members from all sides would welcome the opportunity for a debate, particularly as so many have signed early-day motion 339.

[That this House notes the Government’ s commitment given in the 2003 Aviation White Paper, The Future of Air Transport to reduce noise impacts and to ensure that
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air quality and environmental standards are met before proceeding with a third runway at Heathrow Airport; further notes the assurance given by the Prime Minister on 12 November 2008 that support for a third runway at Heathrow is subject to strict environmental conditions; further notes that Heathrow Airport is already in breach of the European Air Quality Directive to be implemented by 2010; welcomes the statement by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that these environmental commitments should be honoured; supports the Chairman of the Environmen
t Agency’ s decision to oppose the third runway on environmental grounds; and calls upon the Government not to proceed with the third Heathrow runway or mixed-mode and to put the matter to a vote on the floor of the House.]

Will the Leader of the House confirm when we will have a debate on Heathrow, and when all Members, on both sides of the House, will have the opportunity to question the Prime Minister on the issue?

The Leader of the House will also know that 85 Members have signed early-day motion 428 on Royal Mail.

[That this House notes that the Labour Party Conference 2008, with the backing of Ministers, supported a vision of a wholly publicly-owned, integrated Royal Mail Group; welcomes the conclusion of the Hooper Report that the current universal service obligation offered by Royal Mail, including six days a week delivery, must be protected and that the primary duty of a new regulator should be to maintain it; further welcomes the recommendations in the Report that the Government should take responsibility for the pensions deficit which followed an extended contributions holiday; endorses the call for a new relationship between management and postal unions and welcomes the commitment of the Communication Workers Union to negotiate an agreement which would support the modernisation of the industry; observes that in 2007 the Government agreed to a £1.2 billion loan facility on commercial terms to modernise Royal Mail operations; rejects the recommendation of the Hooper Report to sell a minority stake in Royal Mail which would risk fracturing one of Britain’ s greatest public services; further notes that the Government is currently advertising for a new Chair of Royal Mail; and urges the Secretary of State to appoint a Chair and management team who are committed to the principles of a modern public enterprise.]

May we have a debate in Government time on the future of Royal Mail, so that Members can discuss the Government’s part-privatisation plans?

Official figures show that 100,000 pupils educated entirely under a Labour Government failed to attain at least one GCSE at grade C or above. That is an appalling record, particularly for a party that promised it was all about education, education, education. May we have a debate in Government time on what Ministers intend to do before it is too late for the next generation of schoolchildren?

The Leader of the House has made her commitment to protecting the primacy of this House, when it comes to announcements of Government policy, clear. On 10 January 2008, she said:

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Yesterday’s statement by the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, the hon. Member for Dudley, South (Ian Pearson), on the loan guarantee scheme was leaked to the BBC on Tuesday and was followed by media interviews with Ministers yesterday morning, and it was briefed in a press conference by Lord Mandelson. An oral statement was made in the House only because Mr. Speaker granted our request for an urgent question. While the country is in recession, not only is the Business Secretary not answerable to the House but there are four Business Ministers in the Lords and only one Minister solely from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform in the Commons, which makes a mockery of the Prime Minister’s pledge to strengthen Parliament. What is the Leader of the House going to do to ensure that announcements are made to the Commons so that Members can ask questions on behalf of their constituents?

Eighteen months ago, the Prime Minister said that all Ministers’ relevant financial interests would be released

Yesterday, he said:

Will the Leader of the House tell us when that report will be published, and will she also confirm that the delay was caused by Lord Mandelson’s “complicated” interests?

Finally, yesterday, the Business Minister, Baroness Vadera, said that she could see “a few green shoots” of recovery in the economy. That was on the very same day that Barclays announced that it was cutting 2,100 UK jobs, a further 800 jobs went at Jaguar Land Rover and the music chain, Zavvi, and Grattan announced that 3,500 jobs were at risk. What on earth was the Business Minister thinking, and do her comments not show that the Government and their Ministers are completely out of touch?

Ms Harman: The shadow Leader of the House asks for a further debate on Zimbabwe. Members on both sides of the House are well aware how dire the situation is, and that it is deteriorating. I shall continue to look for an opportunity to debate Zimbabwe on the Floor of the House.

The right hon. Lady asks about the process following the forthcoming decision about Heathrow and the third runway. As she knows, there will be a statement by the Secretary of State for Transport, but the process thereafter is contingent on what he announces, so I shall not seek to pre-empt him by saying what it will be after the decision. That is a matter for hon. Members to put to him when he has given his substantive decision.

The Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs made a statement to the House on the future of the Royal Mail, bringing the House up to date and allowing it an opportunity to hold Ministers accountable. He reaffirmed our commitment to universal postal services, and the fact that we shall ensure that Royal Mail keeps its commitment to fulfil its pension liabilities. He reported, too, on the Hooper review and on our response to it. The proposals ensure that we keep our pension commitments, that we keep a universal postal service, that we have better regulation to allow Royal Mail to
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thrive in future, and that we go into a partnership with a minority stake held by a private partner. The proposals were put into the public domain in an oral statement to the House, and they are open to discussion. It is up to the Opposition if, the week after next, they would like to choose that as the topic of their Opposition debate.

The right hon. Lady mentioned educational outcomes for children in this country. We are very proud indeed that, after investment in education, far more and better-paid teachers in our schools, higher valuation of education, more capital investment, and rebuilding our schools, the number of children attaining five A to C GCSEs has gone up from 45 per cent. in 1997 to 64 per cent. We intend to continue that investment and to make further progress.

The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) spoke of the statement on the four-point plan to help businesses with credit lines. The whole House will be aware that the development of our plans has been ongoing: there have been announcements, debates, oral statements and responses by the Prime Minister and other Ministers to parliamentary questions. I am well aware that we need to make sure that the House is kept fully up to speed and that hon. Members have an opportunity to ask questions. Indeed, when I stood in for the Prime Minister at oral questions in December I talked about the plans that we were developing for helping businesses with their credit lines.

We want to strike the right balance between coming to the House with our plans and making sure that they are announced. This House, of course, has primacy and I have drawn up a list of all the occasions since October when hon. Members have been able to take part in topical debates, general debates and Opposition day debates on these matters. There have also been statements—on the G20, for example—as well as the pre-Budget report and the emergency debate on the economy. In addition, the Chancellor has given evidence to the Treasury Committee and we had the Queen’s Speech debate on the economy. I undertake to write to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead to remind her of just how much accountability to the House there has been in respect of the very important priority that we should all give to the economy and to providing help for business.

The right hon. Lady asked when the Register of Ministers’ Interests will be brought forward. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, it will be brought forward as soon as it is complete.

The right hon. Lady asked about Baroness Vadera, who is a highly professional, dedicated and effective member of the ministerial team at the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. I would say that five minutes of Baroness Vadera’s time is worth a lifetime of the judgments of the Leader of the Opposition or the shadow Chancellor. In our ministerial team we have serious people for serious times, and I welcome the arrival in our team of Mervyn Davies.

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