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Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): In response to a question three months ago from my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan), my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House agreed that the situation in Sri Lanka was such that it required a debate on the Floor of the House. I should be grateful if she reconsidered that
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judgment, given that 70,000 people have lost their lives since the ceasefire failed. The situation in Sri Lanka is becoming much worse, with thousands of people displaced and their lives under threat.

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend raises a point that is of concern across the House. Indeed, it was raised at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, when it received a very forthcoming response from my right hon. Friend.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD) rose—

Hon. Members: Hear, hear!

Mr. Heath: It is all downhill from here.

The noble Baroness Vadera has one facet that the Leader of the House did not mention—she is unelected. We have got ourselves into a constitutional muddle on this issue, as I shall make clear. The junior Minister in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform was dragged to this House yesterday to make a statement and then, rather lamely, the Secretary of State who made the decision was able to make a statement four hours later in another place. I gather that another banker is being added to the ministerial team, but he too will be in the other place.

That is the constitutional problem, so will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on how, in this economic crisis, we make sure that key ministerial posts are filled by people who are properly answerable to this House? They are dealing with important economic matters but at the moment they answer to a House that is not supposed, constitutionally, to consider public finances. We are the elected House, and this is where such debates should happen.

May we have an urgent statement on the response to the High Court decision on the rights of Gurkhas to settle in Britain? Many people, myself included, feel that those brave men have been treated shamefully by this country. We have been waiting for a Government response since September, and we need a debate on the matter. Can the Leader of the House also deny categorically the report in one newspaper that the Brigade of Gurkhas is to be disbanded?

I guess I have to declare an interest in Heathrow as I am now a landowner—of a very, very small portion of land in the path of the new Heathrow runway. The Prime Minister promised us a debate. The Leader of the House does not have to be so coy about whether there will be a debate. The Prime Minister promised a debate in the House, and every indication is that the majority of Members want the opportunity to vote against what we expect to be announced shortly on Heathrow. This, again, is a constitutional issue. If most of the House want to have the opportunity to debate the matter and have a substantive motion to vote on, we should have one.

Lastly, I do not know whether the right hon. and learned Lady regularly reads the Almaty Herald or Kazakhstan s kaya Pravda, but if she does she may have picked up a headline along the lines of “Prime Minister tells Ministers to answer questions”. Prime Minister Karim Masimov of Kazakhstan said:

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I am not sure about the blogs, but would it not be an excellent precedent for this country as well if Ministers actually answered the questions that they are asked?

Ms Harman: The process in relation to ministerial roles in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform is the normal process whereby there are Ministers in the Lords and Ministers in the Commons. The most important issue is to ensure that this House is kept fully abreast of all the developments and that there is an opportunity for Members of this House to question the responsible Minister.

The hon. Gentleman asks about the Gurkhas. As he knows, new guidance is being prepared. Once it is complete, former Gurkhas’ applications for the right to live in this country will be considered case by case. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Prime Minister has consistently, including at the end of last year, expressed his absolute commitment to the role of the Gurkhas in the British Army.

The hon. Gentleman asks about Heathrow. I shall not pre-empt the statement. The substance and the process of the Heathrow announcement need to be looked at together. No doubt the hon. Gentleman can ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport about that after he makes his statement to the House.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s announcement that next week we will debate the important topics of freedom of information and publication of Members’ allowances. Can she assure me that we will be given the chance to debate and to vote to make our allowances even more transparent?

Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She will have heard me announce that on the Order Paper next Thursday there will be a statutory instrument on freedom of information, followed by motions. The draft statutory instrument is in the Table Office and the motions are on the Order Paper. What I, as Leader of the House, aim to achieve by next Thursday’s business is to ensure that in respect of allowances paid to Members of Parliament, which is public money, the public can be certain that there is a clear and reasonable set of rules against which money is paid out, that there is a proper audit system to make sure that those rules are obeyed, that the amount is paid under clear headings for each individual Member of Parliament every year and is made public, that it is proportionate and affordable, and that all this is done at a reasonable cost.

That is what we are proposing in a statutory instrument and a series of motions next week. Hon. Members will see that whereas in the past we have published about 13 information headings, the combination of the statutory instrument and the motion that I will put before the House will mean that the public instead have 26 categories of information. The public will have more information than they have ever had before and we will take that back to 2005, so that for all Members, since they have been in the House, each year their allowances against 26 headings will be made public. We want to make sure that the public have confidence that there are clear rules and that they know what is going on.

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Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire) (Con): Will the Leader of the House say what the precise voting structure will be on Thursday?

Ms Harman: I will put a business motion before the House before the substantive debate. The business motion will prescribe that the first debate will be on the statutory instrument under the Freedom of Information Act, which will be Government business. In the same debate there will also be a motion that sets forth a publication scheme. That motion will say that we will publish once a year back to 2005 for every individual Member under those 26 headings. At the end of that first substantive debate there will be two votes—one on the Government business under the Freedom of Information Act, and the second one, which will be House business, on the publications scheme.

Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that investment in green energy technology is essential if our economy is to be developed for the future? The north-east is ideally placed to take forward the application of that technology—critically, in continuing to develop a manufacturing base to support renewable energy. Will she make space for a debate soon on this important topic?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point across both the environmental and the economic agendas. We want to provide help to businesses to invest now and hope for the future of the economy. Renewable energy and green issues will be extremely important. I will bring that to the attention of my right hon. Friends and seek an opportunity to debate it.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): When the Green Book was last debated in July, a rather bizarre and unnoticed resolution went through linking capital gains tax to the additional costs allowance. There was no word of debate about it, it was completely misunderstood by the House, and it is unworkable and almost certainly unenforceable. May I suggest that next Thursday a further resolution be tabled saying that the original resolution does not come into effect until there is further debate and consideration of the matter?

Ms Harman: The Speaker has published the new Green Book, which was prepared by the advisory panel on Members’ allowances and which was considered and approved by the Members Estimate Committee. If he looks in that, the hon. Gentleman will see that a way of dealing with that is laid down. We need to make sure that while we are not changing the provisions of the Finance Act in relation to how the selling of homes is dealt with by way of capital gains tax, we have a flexible and sensible situation for the treatment of the second home under the ACA. I am happy to have a further discussion with the hon. Gentleman after business questions so that we can go through the Green Book and I can explain it to him. My deputy and I are more than happy to go through any aspects of the motions or of the Green Book individually with Members between now and next Thursday, so that everybody can be as clear as possible before they have the opportunity for a full day’s debate on Thursday.

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Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider allowing a debate on the Legal Services Commission’s latest consultation paper? It states that organisations wishing to deliver immigration and asylum advice would need to have a permanent presence in an area of high demand. Most of the immigration casework that I do is with a law centre in Gloucester, which would be expected to have a base in Bristol to continue to be able to apply for funding. That would not work and would not be acceptable. We have a very good rapport with the centre and much of my casework is about immigration, so I hope the Department of Justice will consider that.

Ms Harman: As luck would have it, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice is present and has heard my hon. Friend’s point. My right hon. Friend has said that he will request a meeting with my hon. Friend to sort the matter out.

Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): Given the unprecedented number of responses to the south-west regional spatial strategy, will the Leader of the House allocate parliamentary time so that a representative group of MPs from across the region can participate fully in debate on these issues?

Ms Harman: That is exactly why the House voted to set up regional Committees—so that there can be such accountability for and scrutiny of regional spatial strategies.

Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend must realise that the issue of the third runway is of concern to Members on both sides of the House. Will she at least concede a debate in Government time, rather than there being an Opposition day debate and the opportunism that that involves? I see from the Evening Standard that the Government have a lot to say on the matter, even in advance of the statement. Will a Government debate be allowed, and will it end with a vote so that the House can express its view?

Ms Harman: I do not want to pre-empt the statement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport; until he has said what his decision is, hon. Members will not know whether they really want a debate.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): As the noble Lord Mandelson is now widely acknowledged to be the deputy Prime Minister, would it not be a proper answer to the questions previously put to the Leader of the House if the Prime Minister deputised for the noble Lord in this House?

Ms Harman: The ministerial team at the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform is disposed between the Lords and the Commons, and accountable in both Houses.

Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): May we have a debate on consumer protection? If someone buys a faulty pair of shoes, they can take them back. If they buy a faulty large electrical item from a company such as Comet, they are required to make themselves available for four hours so that the company can remove the
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faulty equipment that it has delivered. Is it not time that we looked at how we protect hard-working families who cannot take such time out and whose e-mails and letters are ignored? Should the onus not be on the company putting the issue right, rather than on the consumer being available at the company’s behest?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point, which goes for utilities as well. If families are hard-pressed, working hard and looking after their children and elderly relatives, they do not want to be messed around by Comet, the gas board or anybody else. I shall raise the issue not only with Lord Mandelson, but with Ministers in this House.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving a positive answer to my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House about a debate on Zimbabwe. Despite the tragedy and horrific events in Gaza, it is important that we do not overlook Zimbabwe, where the death and suffering are as great or greater than in Gaza.

I turn to my main question to the right hon. and learned Lady. Will she find Government time for a full day’s debate on the economy, so that Back Benchers can express to Ministers the impact in individual constituencies of what is clearly the worst credit and financial crisis of my lifetime? The Government would be the wiser if that debate took place.

Ms Harman: As well as the Queen’s Speech debate on the economy on 15 December, we had in Government
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time the emergency debate on the economy on 26 November. If we think that there has not been enough business before the House giving an opportunity for Members to comment more broadly on the economy, we will bring forward specific time for such debate. It is important that the House should play its full part, with Members bringing information from their constituencies and holding the Government to account for our handling of the economy. That is very important indeed.

Zimbabwe is a preoccupation of all Members, not least the hon. Gentleman. I assure him that the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister himself are doing a great deal of work on Zimbabwe. The Prime Minister personally liaises with world leaders to try to mobilise the European, United Nations and African Union effort to better effect. I will look for an opportunity for an early debate on Zimbabwe.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend reflect on her answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh)? The Prime Minister’s answer on Sri Lanka yesterday was helpful, but at the moment 300,000 Tamils are under siege because of the actions of the Sri Lankan Government. The Leader of the House changed the business this week to deal with the situation in Gaza. The situation in Sri Lanka is just as bad. Will she please allow an emergency debate on the catastrophic situation there?

Ms Harman: My right hon. Friend raised that issue forcefully and to good effect with the Prime Minister yesterday, and we will take seriously the points that he has so rightly raised.

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Transport Infrastructure

12.4 pm

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the Government’s plans for Britain’s transport infrastructure.

Effective transport links are vital to our economic competitiveness and our daily lives. Britain’s prosperity is increasingly defined by the quality of its links to other great trading nations, by the way in which we move people and goods around the country, and by our ability to meet the needs of businesses for gateways to the global economy and to enable people to see their families and friends and go on holiday.

As the economic downturn demonstrates, we live in a global age. It is critical that the Government should make the tough choices necessary to deliver long-term prosperity for the United Kingdom—but in a way that meets our environmental objectives. In that context of sustainable economic growth, I want to set out a package of transport investments to prepare us for an ever more global and mobile world.

Over the past decade, we have delivered a £150 billion investment in transport—more than £13 billion this year alone—and we have announced that we will bring forward an extra £1 billion to stimulate the economy by accelerating our plans to cut congestion and increase rail capacity significantly. Over this current three-year period, we are spending around £40 billion, ensuring that investment in transport is at its highest for 30 years as a proportion of national income.

I should first like to update the House on our plans for the road and rail infrastructure and carbon dioxide emissions from transport, before turning to aviation and, in particular, Heathrow. I am placing in the Libraries of both Houses relevant papers setting out the proposals in more detail. At the conclusion of my statement, copies will be available in the Vote Office and on the Department’s website.

Motorways are essential for enabling people and goods to move around the country. Successful trials on the M42 have enabled us safely to open up motorway hard shoulders in peak periods, delivering more reliable journey times and adding a third more capacity at peak times—and all delivered at a lower cost than a more conventional road-widening scheme. After further detailed work, I can announce today a programme of up to £6 billion which includes applying those techniques to some of the most congested parts of the M1, M25, M6 and M62, the M3 and M4 approaching London, and the motorways around Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol. This is the first step in our strategy to provide for managed motorways across the core of the motorway network, linking our major cities over the next 10 to 15 years and reducing congestion, with fewer environmental impacts than conventional motorway widening.

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